>WW4 File: Russian Bear bomber flies within 12 miles of Scotland; RAF source: Libya deployment would create vulnerabilities for Britain

>As the United Kingdom weighs the possibility of supporting a NATO-imposed, UN-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya, with the intent of thwarting Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi’s air strikes against rebel forces, Russian bombers are once again testing the Royal Air Force’s reaction time to airspace intrusions.

On March 13, The Sunday Times reported that one night last week “A Russian bomber has infiltrated deeper into Britain’s air defences than at any time since the cold war and come within sight of the Scottish coast at St Andrews.” Two Tornado F3 fighter aircraft from RAF Leuchars, five miles north of the university town, were scrambled to intercept the lumbering Tupolev Tu-95, which was only 12 miles out to sea. However, the Russian pilot ignored international protocols for such encounters and pulled back only when his nuclear cruise missile platform was within seconds of entering British airspace.

The RAF crews could clearly see the lights of St. Andrews as they flew alongside the Bear bomber, which was believed to have been accompanied by at least one other further out to sea. “It was all a bit tense,” said a senior RAF source, which warned that Russia was testing the impact of Prime Minister David Cameron’s defence cuts on the RAF’s ability to guard British airspace.

The Tornado fighters that intercepted the Bear are slated to be scrapped at the end of March and replaced by Typhoons, but the future of RAF Leuchars is uncertain. The Ministry of Defence is considering scrapping the northern “quick reaction alert” base altogether and focusing Britain’s air defences on RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. The slashing of Nimrod spy planes from RAF Kinloss in Moray led last October to Britain losing track of a Russian submarine passing by northern Scotland.

“The Russians are sticking two fingers up at us and showing up how thinly stretched we are,” the RAF source said. “If we have to send aircraft to patrol a no-fly zone over Libya, we will be unable to protect our own back door. Then the MoD will have to bite the bullet and keep the Tornado F3s in service.”

Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, warned that the latest Russian bomber probe highlighted the deficiencies caused by the Conservative government’s cuts: “This will be extremely worrying for people and they will want clarity about Britain’s ability to defend itself. Serious people are asking serious questions about the capability gap left by the government’s defence review. Morale in our armed forces is low as is this government’s credibility on defence.”

In 2010, RAF fighter aircraft were scrambled 15 times to intercept Russian strategic bombers entering the UK Air Defence Identification Zone, which extends 150 miles into the North Sea. These incidents were common during the Cold War, but reappeared in late 2006. Since then, RAF aircraft have scrambled about 65 times to escort Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack bombers away from the British Isles (one such incident pictured above).

Is it possible that madman Qaddafi–a long-time ally of Moscow, which this week attempted to distance itself from the Libyan regime by banning the North African leader from entering Russia–is luring NATO into another political-military quagmire in the Muslim world? On Tuesday, witnesses stated that Qaddafi loyalists had captured Zwara, the last rebel-held city west of Tripoli. This victory solidifies Qaddafi’s hold on the western stretch of coastline from the capital to the Tunisian border, even as the Libyan leader’s mercenary army marches against rebels in their eastern strongholds

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>Africa File: Qaddafi loyalists regain ground in western Libya, target Misurata; Arab League joins call for no-fly zone, seeks UN approval

>Over the weekend, Muammar Qaddafi’s forces, using armor and mercenary-flown warplanes, pushed insurgents out of the oil port of Brega, the fourth rebel-held town to fall as NATO debates measures that would halt the Libyan strongman’s eastward advance. Momentum in the four-week conflict has shifted toward Qaddafi, who has recaptured the oil port of Ras Lanuf, the nearby town of Bin Jawad, and the western city of Zawiyah.

In a signal that regime forces are preparing to push further east, a military camp in Ajdabiya, about 50 miles east of Brega, was targeted by an air strike today, though no one was killed. Misurata, the only city in western Libya still held by the rebels, is “almost surrounded from all directions and we’re expecting an attack at any moment,” fretted Reda Almountasser, a rebel supporter in that city told Bloomberg by phone on Monday.

To thwart Qaddafi’s attempts to reassert control over the entire country, France, the United Kingdom, and the Arab League have backed a no-fly zone over Libya, but now United Nations approval is sought. On March 14, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Paris (pictured above with US security officials) to discuss options on ending the Libyan conflict with the USA’s G8 allies.

In an effort to distance itself from its long-time client and ally, the Kremlin has banned Qaddafi and his family from seeking refuge in Russia or conducting financial transactions there. Although Russia opposes NATO military intervention in the North African country, Moscow has softened its stance on the imposition of a no-fly zone.

>Asia File: Massive 8.9 quake, 6.6 aftershock hit Japan, up to 1,600 killed, tsunami wipes out cities, towns; nuclear plant disaster

>– Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Damaged, Up to 160 People Exposed to Radiation (source)

Pictured above: Homes burn and ships are tossed about like toys in tsunami-ravaged Kessenuma, Japan.

The Ring of Fire is very active these days. Today’s earthquake off the east coast of Japan’s main island Honshu is the country’s largest-ever recorded shaker, responsible for killing up to 1,600 people and generating a 10-meter tsunami that inundated towns and cities. BBC News reports: “A massive earthquake has hit the north-east of Japan, triggering a tsunami that has caused extensive damage. Japanese television showed cars, ships and even buildings being swept away by a vast wall of water after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake. The quake has sparked fires in several areas including Tokyo. At least 32 people were killed, officials said.”

The previous source notes: “Coastal areas in the Philippines, Hawaii and other Pacific islands were evacuated ahead of the tsunami’s expected arrival.” According to the MSM, “Tsunami waves swamped Hawaii beaches and brushed the U.S. western coast Friday but didn’t immediately cause major damage after devastating Japan and sparking evacuations throughout the Pacific.”

The massive quake also damaged a nuclear power plant, releasing radiation into the surrounding area: “Radiation has leaked from a damaged Japanese nuclear reactor north of Tokyo after an explosion blew the roof off the facility in the wake of a massive earthquake, the government says. The developments raised fears of a meltdown at the plant as officials scrambled to contain what could be the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 that shocked the world.”

A second, 6.6-magnitude quake struck northwest Japan on Saturday. Since last September, two large earthquakes have also struck New Zealand’s South Island. The second, which occurred on February 22, devastated Christchurch.

>Africa File: France recognizes Libya’s rebel government, pro-Qaddafi troops concentrate firepower on Zawiyah and Ras Lanuf, NATO begins surveillance

>– French President and British Prime Minister Urge NATO Air Strikes against Libyan Military Targets

– First Libyan Official to Demand Qaddafi’s Resignation Denounces Polisario Front for Joining Strongman’s Mercenary Army

On Thursday, France became the first country anywhere to recognize the Libyan National Council, the rebel organization fighting to oust long-time dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, as the legitimate representative of Libya. “France recognises the National Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. There will be an exchange of ambassadors between Paris and Benghazi,” declared an official at the Elysee Palace, referring to the eastern Libyan city that has become the rebel stronghold.

A French diplomatic source said: “It’s a political signal of encouragement and we hope that the European Union will follow suit.” One European Union (EU) diplomat has in fact admitted that the 27-member federation was exploring the possibility of opening a representative office in east Libya, a stance that definitely expresses the EU’s confidence in Qaddafi’s eventual departure.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy probably has a personal interest in bidding adieu to Qaddafi. In 2008 the Libyan strongman, Africa’s self-anointed “King of Kings,” refused to join Sarkozy’s new Union for the Mediterranean (UPM). The UPM includes the European Union and those African and Asian countries with shores on the Mediterranean Sea, including Israel. On the basis of Qaddafi’s strong objections, Tripoli elected not to join the regional economic bloc, preferring instead to exert influence via the African Union.

Incidentally, in past posts on Bible prophecy, we have noted that the UPM, even more so than simply the EU, bears all of the hallmarks of the revived Roman Empire. Twenty centuries ago, Judea was a province of Imperial Rome. Now, 60 years after the Jews were officially and miraculously restored to their ancient homeland, the political entity that once embraced the entire Mediterranean region is also on the world stage. This is a heads up for anyone who takes Bible prophecy seriously.

The civil war in Libya, now recognized as such by the International Red Cross, continued to rage on Thursday as pro-Qaddafi forces renewed “ferocious attacks” on rebel positions around strategic refinery town Ras Lanuf. Explosions rocked a hospital and a mosque. Sirens howled and anti-aircraft gunners blazed away at clear skies, while two ambulances speeding from the hospital crashed into each other.

The previous day, rebel army units west of Ras Lanuf countered government shelling with missile fusillades and rocket-propelled grenades. Backed by heavy weaponry, the insurgents managed to advance on foot for a few miles to the west, until the fighters were deterred by regime mortars and heavy machine guns. The rebels lost five men to gunfire and were forced to retreat in trucks.

There were also new reports of regime air strikes much further east, at a checkpoint in the town of Brega, about one hundreds miles west of Benghazi. If confirmed, the attack would suggest that loyalist forces are ranging further towards Benghazi, possibly attacking rebel supply lines.

“It’s tough these days,” said Mohammed al-Houni, a 25-year-old fighter at the front, referring to Qaddafi loyalists. “There is no comparison between our weapons and theirs. They’re trained, they’re organized. They got their training in Russia and I don’t know where. We’re not an army, we’re the people and even if we had weapons, we wouldn’t even know how to use them.”

In the western part of the country, elite government troops continued to pound the besieged rebel-held city of Zawiyah, only 30 miles from Tripoli. While the Qaddafi regime claims to have subdued opposition in Zawiyah, there has been no independent confirmation since reporters are barred from entering the town.

So, while the conflict in Libya degenerates into full-scale civil war, disrupting oil exports and jacking up pump prices worldwide, NATO officials in Brussels debate the benefits of imposing a no-flight zone over Libyan airspace. British defence secretary Liam Fox hinted that a no-fly zone could be enforced without first neutralizing the North African country’s air defences. Showing a modicum of resolve, the North Atlantic Alliance has at least decided to establish 24-hour surveillance of the country’s airspace. On March 10, NATO officialdom announced that three Boeing E-3 Sentry aircraft are airborne off the Libyan coast, keeping track of all Libyan air force flights.

In a joint letter issued on the eve of an emergency EU summit, to be held on Friday, Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron (pictured above) warned that Qaddafi might be guilty of crimes against humanity, offering NATO the necessary legal cover under the Geneva conventions for a no-fly zone or targeted air strikes. “The strikes would be solely of a defensive nature if Mr Gaddafi makes use of chemical weapons or air strikes against non-violent protesters,” Sarkozy urged, adding: “I have many reservations about military intervention in Libya because Arab revolutions belong to Arabs.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Ali Errishi, the first Libyan official to demand Qaddafi’s resignation, has condemned the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario Front) for its “hypocrisy” in claiming to fight for “freedom and progressive ideals,” but at the same time joining Qaddafi’s mercenary army to crush opposition forces. Errishi pleaded:

I appeal to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to be a good neighbour and stop these people from crossing Algeria into Libya to join Qadhafi’s mercenary army. The hypocrisy of members of the Polisario who speak of their ideals and progressive values, yet participate in such a viscous enterprise is disheartening.

Libya’s Minister of State for Immigration and Expatriates since 2006, Errishi resigned from a regime he no longer considers legitimate. He is well known among Libyans as a human rights activist.

The Polisario Front is seeking independence for Western Sahara from Morocco and has rejected Rabat’s internationally backed compromise solution for regional autonomy within Morocco. Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until 1975, when General Francisco Franco’s fascist regime ended with his death. Moroccan troops promptly invaded and occupied the sparsely populated region.

News reports allege that Qaddafi has recruited up to 25,000 mercenaries, including Tuareg separatist fighters from his own country, as well as hired guns from Mali, Algeria, and Burkina Faso. Errishi confirmed that well-armed members of the Polisario Front, which is based in refugee camps near Tindouf in southwest Algeria, are among the strongman’s paid killers. Robert Holley, executive director of the Moroccan American Center for Policy also denounced Qaddafi’s mercenary army:

It is outrageous that members of the Polisario are likely part of the mercenaries Qadhafi has organized to suppress and kill his own people. The international community should heed Dr. Errishi’s call for blockading transit for these hired guns through Algeria and elsewhere. As Dr. Errishi notes, the hypocrisy is disheartening—and a challenge to regional stability.

Although Errishi appealed to Bouteflika to halt the transit of Western Sahara separatists, the Algerian leader has his own problems at home. In Algiers, the 50-year-old National Liberation Front regime faces widespread, Tunisia-inspired dissent from a marginalized political opposition and a disgruntled, under-paid police force.

>Africa File: Libyan rebels allege Syrian pilots flying in Qaddafi’s mercenary air force, Serbs deny personnel involvement

>Libyan rebels claim to have shot down two warplanes over the oil town of Ras Lanuf and that the pilots’ identity cards and accents indicate Syrian citizenship. The National Front for the Salvation of Libya claims that the Syrian authorities are complicit in the participation of their pilots.

Pictured above: A pre-Qaddafi flag flies outside the Libyan consulate in The Hague, Netherlands, on March 9, 2011

According to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, which interviewed the rebels, the embattled regime of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi is employing mercenary pilots from Syria, Algeria, Ukraine, Serbia, and Romania to fly air force warplanes because Libyan pilots are no longer considered reliable. Indeed, some Libyan pilots have defected altogether. We have already posted on the presence of Eastern Europeans of high rank in the Libyan air force.

Qaddafi’s mercenary air force staged new raids against rebel positions on Tuesday, even as rebels announced that they recently rejected attempts by Qaddafi intermediaries to talk with the interim government, headed up by Libya’s former justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil. A rebel spokesman huffed to Voice of America: “We’re not going to negotiate with him. He knows where the airport is in Tripoli and all he needs to do is leave and stop the bloodshed.” Incidentally, Abdel-Jalil alleges that Qaddafi personally ordered the bombing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

Libya’s close ties with “post”-communist Serbia, in particular, were revealed during Qaddafi’s exclusive interview with Serbia’s Pink TV on February 27, only hours after the United Nations imposed economic sanctions against the Qaddafi clan. “We have very good relations with Libya, including a large trade exchange, especially in the military sector, primarily weapons and equipment. We export a lot to Libya. We have signed many trade agreements with Libya,” Zoran Dragisic, a security analyst from Belgrade, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Belgrade denies reports that Serbian pilots are flying Libyan warplanes.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Turkish TV, the Libyan strongman has threatened reprisals if NATO imposes a no-fly zone over his country: “If they take such a decision, it will be useful for Libya, because the Libyan people will see the truth, that what they want is to take control of Libya and to steal their oil. Then the Libyan people will take up arms against them.”

>Africa File: Pro-Qadaffi forces launch "heavy" counter-strikes against rebels, British embarrassed by botched SAS mission in Benghazi

>Pictured here: On Monday, anti-Qaddafi rebels run for cover after a Libyan air force fighter jet drops a bomb near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town Ras Lanuf.

“With tanks, helicopters and fighter planes,” reports The New York Times on Sunday, ” troops loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi attacked rebel troops in the coastal town of Bin Jawwad on Sunday and pushed them east, stalling, for the moment, hopes by the antigovernment fighters of a steady march toward Tripoli.”

Meanwhile, on Friday Libyan rebels captured six SAS soldiers and an MI6 officer who were escorting British diplmats into the Benghazi area to establish contact with the country’s opposition. Stupidly, the British government neglected to inform the Libyan rebels of the mission, who refused to talk with the diplomats. The Australian media points out: “The team is said to have entered without prior arrangement in the dead of night, carrying guns, explosives, and passports of multiple nationalities.” Foreign Secretary William Hague, London confirms, approved the mission.

In Latin America, Qaddafi’s allies in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) converged in Caracas, where they offered to mediate between the Libyan regime and the rebels. On Friday, Venezuela’s communist dictator Hugo Chavez read a statement in which ALBA condemned NATO’s alleged plans to intervene in the Libyan conflict and seize the country’s oil reserves. Chavez warned that if there is a larger conflict in North Africa, “those flames could reach Europe.” According to Chavez, Qaddafi has endorsed ALBA’s role as mediator.

The ALBA bloc of socialist states includes Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Observer states include Grenada, Haiti, Paraguay, Uruguay and, intriguingly, Syria. “Post”-communist Russia has also expressed an interest in joining ALBA.

From the historical viewpoint, Grenada’s observer status in ALBA is sadly ironic. In 1983, US-led forces from the Eastern Caribbean invaded Grenada to oust a pro-Soviet communist regime. Grenada’s current prime minister, however, has once again aligned the island country with Havana, even renaming Grenada’s Cuban-built international airport after deceased Marxist dictator Maurice Bishop.

>Africa File: Russia rejects military strike against long-time ally Qaddafi; Belarus shipped up to 40 tons of arms to Libya on eve of first protests

>– Qaddafi’s Ukrainian “Nurse” (KGB Controller?) Flies Home on Military Transport, Ukrainian Security Service (SBU/KGB) Confiscates Kolotnitskaya’s Passport after In-Flight Rant (source)

– US Navy Warships Heading for Libyan Coast as Rebels Mull Benefits of Foreign Intervention

– Western Sahara Guerrillas Steal across Algerian-Libyan Border to Military Camps near Tripoli, Lead Ground Operations for Strongman’s Mercenary Army

– Qaddafi’s Children Urge Dictator to Accept Offer of Political Asylum from Nicaragua’s President Ortega

– Al Qaeda Affiliates Express Solidarity with Popular Uprising, Islamic Militants Raid Army Depot with Complicity of Commanding Officer

In the wake of a popular uprising that is less than three weeks old, the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, founded by Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi in 1969, is in its death throes. Rebel forces consisting of anti-government troops and militias pretty much control the entire North African country, with the exception of the capital Tripoli, Qaddafi’s hometown Surt, and a few other population centers.

Undaunted, Qaddafi loyalists have staged counterattacks since last weekend. On Wednesday, they overran the lightly defended town of Brega, an oil-exporting terminal on the coast around 500 miles east of Tripoli. However, rebels managed to repel the pro-Qaddafi forces (pictured above). Local sources described an aerial attack against the town of Ajdabiyah, around 50 miles from Brega, where rebels have seized control of a large ammunition dump. Ajdabiyah lies on the western approaches to Benghazi, the site of a rival government headed by Libya’s former justice minister.

Libya’s anti-Qaddafi rebels are divided over the issue of summoning foreign military intervention. “We are probably going to call for foreign help, probably air strikes at strategic locations that will put the nail in his [Qaddafi’s] coffin,” Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the hastily organized February 17th Coalition, told Reuters. “They [loyalists] tried to take Brega this morning, but they failed. It is back in the hands of the revolutionaries. He [Qaddafi] is trying to create all kinds of psychological warfare to keep these cities on edge.”

In Tripoli, cornered mad dog Qaddafi, some or all of his seven sons, including heir apparent Saif al-Islam, are holed up in a huge military complex with thousands of mercenaries from Ukraine and Serbia, as well as Zimbabwe, Mali, Chad, and Sudan. The Bab al-Azizia barracks contain tunnels for easy escape and, according to Ramdan Jarbou, a writer who advises the rebel council, “It is designed to resist an atomic attack.”

Qaddafi’s white mercenaries from Eastern Europe have been tasked with keeping the Libyan air force airborne, while the black hired guns from sub-Saharan Africa roam the streets of Tripoli, looking for victims. Tellingly, the governments of Ukraine, Belarus, and Serbia were quick to deny the involvement of any retired or active-duty soldiers in the Libyan civil war.

Reportedly leading the pro-regime ground operations are guerrilla fighters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario Front). In past years, Qaddafi cultivated a useful alliance with Polisario Front leader Mohamed Abdelaziz, who is also chummy with Cuba’s communist leaders. A Moroccan news site relates that the “Good Colonel” has dispatched emissaries to Western Sahara with a request for “additional fighters” in exchange for money and weapons to prosecute the Polisario Front’s war against Morocco:

Some sources in Algeria speak of hundreds of fighters from the Western Sahara. Separatist Polisario group have already crossed the border between Algeria and Libya towards military camps near Tripoli, Libya. The goal is to use Gaddafi’s Serbs and Ukrainians to fly helicopters and military aircraft, while the Polisario fighters lead the ground fighting.

Moreover, and according to the official Libyan news agency JANA, the Western Sahara Polisario leader, Mohamed Abdelaziz, has been one of the few people who managed to talk to Qaddafi. During the call, the “guide of the revolution” [Qaddafi] had promised to Mohamed Abdelaziz considerable sums of money and weapons to resume the war against Morocco. In his speech Tuesday, Gaddafi had indeed made it clear that nations that would help him are all from the Sahara. A clear allusion to the Polisario.

For his part, Muammar’s son Khamis leads the Libyan army’s 32nd Brigade, a relatively well equipped special forces outfit consisting of 10,000 men who have pledged their loyalty to the Qaddafi clan.

Since his coup against the Libyan monarch, Qaddafi has enjoyed Moscow’s ideological and technological support, both before and after the “fall” of communism. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited Libya in early 2008, while Qaddafi returned the favor by stopping by at the Kremlin later that year. An arms deal was high on the agenda in both instances.

Despite the current violence in Libya, the Russian Foreign Ministry has rejected international calls for sanctions against Qaddafi’s tottering regime. “While [they] might work in some situations, you can hardly say that they are an effective method of international action,” ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told Interfax. During bilateral talks in Brussels, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov released a joint statement with European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, which stated:

We condemn and consider unacceptable the use of military force to break up peaceful demonstrations. Supporting the peoples of Arab countries in their aspirations for a more just and prosperous life, the European Union and Russia stand ready to provide economic and other assistance to interested countries at their request.

The Kremlin has also rejected calls for military strikes and the establishment of a “no-fly” zone over Libya. Lavrov commented dismissively: “Planning any military intervention would be superfluous. Russia will veto any such plans at the United Nations.” Along the same theme, Russia’s NATO ambassador Dmitry Rogozin rumbled: “It would be a serious mistake if someone in Washington is seeking a blitzkrieg in Libya. A ban on the national air force or civil aviation to fly over their own territory is still a serious interference into the domestic affairs of another country.” Saif al-Islam warned against military action. “If they attack us, we are ready,” he told Sky News.

Since the uprising started on February 16, the former Soviet republic of Belarus’ support for Qaddafi has been more tangible than the expressions of solidarity emanating from Russia. On the previous day, reports the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a Libyan-owned Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft left an air base near the Belarusian city of Baranovichi and landed at the Libyan desert airport of Sebha. “The Ilyushin came from a dedicated military base that only handles stockpiled weaponry and military equipment,” revealed SIPRI’s arms trafficking expert Hugh Griffiths on Radio Sweden. SIPRI is an independent organization that tracks arms trafficking on behalf of the European Union.

The arms monitor also contends that one of Qaddafi’s private aircraft, a Falcon 900 executive jet, flew from Libya to Belarus last week, at least twice, possibly ferrying gold and diamonds. In particular, Griffiths elaborated on Sebha’s importance to the Libyan regime’s military operations:

Sebha is deep in the desert and was created by Gaddafi as his main military logistics base for his invasions of Chad in the 1980s. The tribe that controls the area around Sebha is still loyal to Gaddafi, he spent some of his formative years there, going to school.

Sebha could still be used as a jumping-off point for the movement of people or high-value commodities – such as diamonds, gold – out of Libya, either by executive jet, such as the aircraft which made the flights to Belarus late last week, or heavier items by cargo aircraft.

The Libyan regime has a “substantial number” of Soviet-built Ilyushin Il-76s. The air base at Baranovichi holds a major supply of arms and light weapons left over from the Cold War. Khamis al-Qaddafi attended a large military exercise in Belarus two years ago.

Griffiths also suggests that personal links between Qaddafi and four-term Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko could be helpful for the Libyan leader and his clan in the event that rebels successfully seize Tripoli. “[Lukashenko] hasn’t distanced himself from Gaddafi and he would certainly welcome members of his entourage,” he was quoted by Radio Sweden as saying. “Belarusian authorities could also manage to convert [Qaddafi’s alleged] large quantities of gold and diamonds into cash.” Although we previously quoted a Libyan oppositionist as predicting that Qaddafi intended to escape to Zimbabwe, Lukashenko would no doubt welcome the Lunatic of Libya with open arms.

As with reports of Belarusian and other Eastern European soldiers in the employ of Qaddafi, Belarus authorities derided the SIPRI report. Information about the flights between Libya and Belarus were drawn from “a wide range of sources” within the United Nations, EU and NATO, Griffiths told Swedish radio news.

On Tuesday the United Nations General Assembly unanimously suspended Libya’s farcical membership in the UN Human Rights Council. The resolution was adopted by consensus in the 192-nation General Assembly on the basis of a recommendation from the 47-member Geneva-based council, the principal UN rights forum. That body accused Libyan authorities last Friday of “gross and systematic violations of human rights.”

In spite of its pro-Muslim stance, the Obama White House is at least toying with a military response to the Qaddafi regime’s brutal crackdown on the rebellion. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committee that Libya’s future is “murky.” Clinton opined: “In the years ahead, Libya could become a peaceful democracy or it could face protracted civil war. The stakes are high. The entire region is changing, and a strong and strategic American response will be essential.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautioned: “We have to think about the use of the U.S. military in another country in the Middle East.” Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen mused: “It would be an extraordinarily complex operation to set up.”

If US President Barack Hussein Obama gives a green light to oust Qaddafi, then the White House may play the “weapons of mass destruction” card to justify US-NATO air strikes. An Israeli news source quotes The Wall Street Journal as saying that “Washington fears Gaddafi may use mustard gas and other chemical-weapons agents against anti-government protestors. The newspaper quoted US officials as saying Tripoli also maintains control of aging Scud B missiles, as well as 1,000 metric tons of uranium yellowcake and vast amounts of conventional weapons.” According to an unconfirmed report in the Iranian state media, the Qaddafi regime has already used poison gas against rebels in the city of Misurata.

On March 2, Reuters, citing Egyptian authorities, reported that two US Navy amphibious assault ships, Kearsarge and Ponce, entered the Suez Canal from the Red Sea, sailing north on their way to the Mediterranean Sea. On Monday, destroyer USS Barry passed through the canal and is now sailing in the southwest Mediterranean. Pentagon officials will not confirm whether the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, which is still in the Red Sea, will be deployed to Libya.

Meanwhile, according to the Jerusalem Post, Qaddafi’s children have urged their father to abdicate and head for Nicaragua, where President Daniel Ortega, with the White House’s blessing, has reportedly offered political asylum to his old Cold War comrade. Ortega has been very vocal about his support for Qaddafi and disapproval for the Libyan rebels, earning him a rap on the wrist from Costa Rican counterpart Laura Chinchilla, with whom he is duelling over a disputed river border.

Incidentally, President Hugo Chavez, Qaddafi’s ally in Venezuela, has made no public statements concerning the Libyan uprising. This conspicuous silence is strange in view of Comrade Hugo’s reputation as a “big mouth.” However, PetroleumWorld reports that Chavez may have let the cat out of the bag in a post at his official Twitter account: “Gaddafi is facing a civil war. Long live Libya. Long live the independence of Libya.”

Like Communist Cuba, the red regime in Caracas alleges that the USA plans to invade oil-rich Libya under the guise of intervention. Venezuela’s UN ambassador Jorge Valero stated: “We urge peace-loving nations in all regions of the world to put a stop to the invasion plans against Libya, which have been unashamedly announced by the Department of State of the United States and the Pentagon.”

Throughout the rebellion, Qaddafi–who hides his own hashish addiction behind trademark sunglasses–has accused Al Qaeda of fomenting the unrest that imperils his regime with drug-crazed teenagers as pawns. Although Islamists have yet to hijack the ongoing democratic revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, they are definitely making their presence felt in the last country, where the regime’s response to public protests has been the most violent.

In a statement released on February 24 by the North African affiliate of Al Qaeda, the group known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) declared its solidarity with the Libyan rebels: “We declare our support for the legitimate demands of the Libyan revolution. We assert to our people in Libya that we are with you and will not let you down, God willing. We will give everything we have to support you, with God’s grace.” The statement was posted on the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Fajr website.

Frances Townsend, formerly homeland security adviser to US President George W. Bush, worries that AQIM could establish a presence in the eastern provinces of Libya: “I do worry because AQIM has training, recruiting and operational capability, and they could lend that capability to what remains of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.” Formed by Libyan fighters who joined Osama bin Laden in the 1980s to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) was until recently the jihadist opposition to Qaddafi.

“Gadhafi crushed them,” relates Townsend. “My concern has always been that AQIM could conceivably lend support to the remnants of the LIFG as an attempt to take advantage of the chaos. It’s a legitimate concern, but as far as I know, it’s for now a theoretical concern.” Many of the LIFG leaders were sent to prison and then reintegrated into society through de-radicalization programs.

Another Muslim grouping called the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change has issued a statement calling on Arab states and the international community to intervene and aid the Libyan protestors:

This regime has lost control of most Libyan cities with the exception of the main part of the capital Tripoli…which has forced this gang to carry out airstrikes – using foreign pilots – against locations where protestors are gathering. This is in order to guarantee freedom of movement to military brigades and foreign mercenaries that have been brought in from abroad to carry out a campaign of genocide against the Libyan people, away from the eyes of the outside world.

Gaddafi is committed to destroying Libya and its people, and he wants to ensure that if his end is inevitable, he will not fall alone, but take all of Libya with him.

The Libyan Islamic Movement for Change urged the Libyan Air Force to bomb Qaddafi’s headquarters at the Bab al-Azizia barracks in Tripoli, “thereby spare Libyan people the bloodbath being arranged by the Libyan leaders, enabling the people of Libya to regain their independence and freedom.”

On February 20, a third Islamist group, called the Islamic Emirate of Barqa (IEB), actually carried out a military operation in Derna, storming a government arms depot and a nearby port. In the coordinated assault, IEB militants killed four soldiers, took hostages, and seized 250 weapons and 70 army vehicles. Significantly, the depot’s commanding officer facilitated the theft by willingly turning over a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, three anti-aircraft artillery units, and 70 Kalashnikov assault rifles. The same group was responsible for the hanging of two policemen in Al-Baida on February 19.

Over the past five years, Libya has freed around 850 prisoners from different Islamist groups, 360 of them since March 2010. Among those released were jihadists with ties to Al Qaeda’s Iraqi and North African sections, including senior members of the LIFG, such as its chief Abdelhakim Belhaj. In March 2006 Libya released 84 jailed members of the country’s banned Muslim Brotherhood, held since the late 1990s.

>Africa File: Pro-Qaddafi forces continue assault against oil town, Pentagon repositions forces, Italy suspends friendship treaty with Libya

>Overnight pro-regime forces in Libya once again attempted to re-take the rebel-held oil town of Zawiyah. CNN reports today that: “Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi tried to retake a town near the capital that is in opposition control but were repelled . . . Pro-Gadhafi troops with tanks and anti-aircraft guns attacked Zawiyah from both east and west as night fell Monday, but did not capture the town, a short drive from the capital Tripoli . . .” The same source adds: “Zawiyah is calm Tuesday, but Gadhafi’s troops remain outside it . . .”

Meanwhile, Washington is repositioning military assets in the region for a possible stike against the Libyan armed forces. DefenseNews.com reports:

The U.S. military is moving naval and air forces into position around Libya, the Pentagon said Feb. 28, as Western countries weigh possible intervention against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. “We have planners working various contingency plans, and I think it’s safe to say as part of that we’re repositioning forces to provide for that flexibility once decisions are made,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan told reporters.

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise is presently sailing in the Red Sea, while US and NATO bases in Italy could serve as potential staging areas for any action against Libya. For instance, the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet is stationed near Naples. The USA last bombed Libya in 1986, in reprisal for a terrorist attack in West Berlin.

To that end, Rome has suspended adherence to a non-aggression treaty that Italy signed with Libya three years ago, opening the way for US/NATO intervention in Libya’s civil war, which has crippled oil exports.

>Africa File: Libyan rebels down military aircraft as 2,000 pro-Qaddafi troops attempt to re-take Misurata, Zawiyah, French send aid to rebels

>Over the weekend, rebels in Misurata, Libya’s third largest city, and the strategic refinery town of Zawiyah fought back attempts by pro-Qaddafi forces to re-assume control over the region around the national capital Tripoli. A witness in Misurata told Reuters by telephone: “An aircraft was shot down this morning while it was firing on the local radio station. Protesters captured its crew. Fighting to control the military air base started last night and is still going on. Gaddafi’s forces control only a small part of the base. Protesters control a large part of this base where there is ammunition.”

Pictured above: Rebel militiamen in Nalut, 90 kilometers from Tunisian border, on February 27.

At the same time, rebel forces consisting of mutinous army units and militiamen have seized towns throughout western Libya. On February 28, The Telegraph quoted a lawyer in the town of Nalut, Shaban Abu Sitta, as saying: “The city has been liberated since February 19. It has been run by a revolutionary committee named by the town’s communities. The towns of Rhibat, Kabaw, Jado, Rogban, Zentan, Yefren, Kekla, Gherien and Hawamed have also been free for days. In all these towns, Gaddafi’s forces have gone and a revolutionary committee put in place.”

This weekend, the USA, the United Kingdom and the United Nations Security Council slapped economic sanctions on Libya. The European Union plans to apply sanctions against the embattled Qaddafi regime on Monday.

In Washington, US Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, representing both main parties, have urged President Barack Hussein Obama to recognize the transitional government in Libya and provide anti-regime forces with weapons and humanitarian assistance to oust Gaddafi.

In Paris, Prime Minister François Fillon acknowledged that France is sending two planes with humanitarian aid to Benghazi, the opposition stronghold in eastern Libya. The planes will be ferrying doctors, nurses, medicines and medical equipment. “It will be the beginning of a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of liberated territories,” Fillon said on RTL radio. He explained that the French government was studying “all solutions” to the Libyan crisis, including military options, so that “Gadhafi understands that he should go, that he should leave power.”

>Africa File: Qaddafi reportedly uses poison gas against opponents in rebel-held Misurata, enlists support of Western Sahara guerrillas

>– Libya’s former justice minister leads formation of interim government in Benghazi (source)

– According to the Iranian media there are unconfirmed reports that Qaddafi’s embattled regime has used poison gas against demonstrators in rebel-held Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city (source)

– Qaddafi secures support of Western Sahara’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro; hundreds of Polisario guerrillas steal across Algeria-Libya border to military camps near Tripoli (source)

– On Friday, rooftop gunmen in Tripoli fired on civilians with automatic weapons (source)

– According to Colonel Tarek Saad Hussein, a rebel officer who is coordinating an attack on the national capital, an armed volunteer force of about 2,000 men, including army defectors, is due to arrive in Tripoli shortly

– USA imposes unilateral sanctions on Qaddafi regime, freezes all assets held by Qaddafi clan, closes embassy in Tripoli (source)

– White House and NATO considering military option (source)

– United Nations World Food Program warns Libya’s food supply “close to collapse” (source)

– Venezuela’s communist dictator, Hugo Chavez, avoids public statements regarding fate of ally Qaddafi, posts thoughts on official Twitter account: “Gaddafi is facing a civil war. Long live Libya. Long live the independence of Libya.” (source)

>Africa File: Russia opposes sanctions against murderous Qaddafi regime, White House and NATO mull response, Islamists back Libyan rebels

>Pictured here: On February 24, anti-Qaddafi militiamen raid a military base near Benghazi and stockpile weapons for final assault against regime forces, which are concentrated in the capital Tripoli.

>Africa File: Qaddafi holed up in Bab Al-Azizia barracks with mercenaries, plane loaded with gold, cash, ready for escape to Zimbabwe

>– Mugabe’s Defense Minister Refuses to Comment on Reports of Zimbabwean Soldiers in the Employ of Qaddafi

– London-Based Libyan Oppositionist: Qaddafi Will Probably Flee Country before United Nations Imposes “No-Fly Zone”

– Qaddafi Sees “Writing on the Wall” as Tunisians and Egyptians Oust Dictators, Begins Shipping in 4,000 Mercenaries Two Days before Riots Erupt in Benghazi

Pictured above: Members of Libya’s Internal Security Forces wave the old national flag as they parade through the eastern, rebel-held city of Tobruk on February 24, 2011.

The Zimbabwe Daily reports that soldiers of that country are among Muammar al-Qaddafi’s mercenary units, which are ruthlessly gunning down civilians in Tripoli. On Wednesday, Innocent Gonese, chief whip of the Zimbabwean parliament and member of Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai, asked Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa to respond to reports, broadcast by Al-Jazeera television, that Zimbabwean troops are in Libya to help prop up Qaddafi’s tottering regime. In his reply, Mnangagwa only went so far as to acknowledge that: “There are mercenaries who are African and [who] are in Libya . . . [but] I have no mandate in my duty as Minister of Defense to investigate activities happening in another African country.”

The Zimbabwe news source then points out that this is not the first time the army has been deployed abroad. In 1999 President Robert Mugabe sent 11,000 troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to support fellow Marxist Laurent Kabila against rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda.

We previously blogged that the Libyan strongman, who has never enjoyed widespread support within the military, has shipped in ex-special forces from the “former” Soviet Union, especially Ukraine, as well as hired killers from Chad and Sudan. Ukrainian nationals not only hold high ranks in the Libyan armed forces, but also pilot the fighter jets that have bombed civilian targets since last week. Patriotic Libyan soldiers refused to carry out this beastly task and, instead, mutinied, rallying around Qaddafi’s opposition.

On February 24, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation conducted a lengthy interview with London-based Libyan oppositionist Guma El-Gamaty, who commented on the extent to which rebel forces now control the North African country:

I think practically Gaddafi’s regime is finished, it’s over, he’s down. It’s just a matter of time. This time could be hours, could be days

The whole of the eastern region is now totally free of Gaddafi’s control. In the western region, big towns and cities have also fallen. We have confirmation this morning that the third biggest city in Libya, which is Misurata, some 200 kilometers east of Tripoli, is totally free of Gaddafi and they have managed to tackle the last security battalion in the city and taken it over.
In fact, the local radio station in Misurata is now broadcasting free material against Gaddafi and celebrating with the population.

Also other towns like Zaria, 40 kilometers west of Tripoli is—we had reports today directly from there—that it is free. Zwara, near the Tunisian border, Gharyan, south of Tripoli about 80 kilometers.

Gaddafi is now more or less isolated within Tripoli and within Tripoli itself is just isolated inside his headquarter barrack, which is called Bab al-Azizia barrack, surrounded by his [seven] sons and a few of his security battalions.

With respect to the role of the hired foreign gunmen in Qaddafi’s employ, El-Gamaty explains:

[Qaddafi] . . . has thousands of African mercenaries. Some of them have been caught in the eastern region and interrogated. They are Africans who speak French or English. They are totally alien to the Libyan society and they said they have been promised large amounts of dollars to fight for Gaddafi, basically. And these thousands of Africans are within the Bab al-Azizia barrack.

It’s a huge complex and they unleash them out of the barracks in to the streets of Tripoli to terrorize the population and to prevent them from coming out and demonstrating. These mercenaries have orders to shoot any people who they see on the streets. So, that is what’s holding the huge population of Tripoli, which is about two million people, not to come out en masse. Basically, they are held hostages in their houses.

However, the grip is loosening very fast and even within Bab al-Azizia barrack we hear of the factions, we hear of the Libyan elements within Bab al-Azizia, some of them are refusing to go out and shoot their own citizens and as a result they have been executed and we hear of in-fighting.

According to El-Gamaty, the Libyan leader plans to flee to Zimbabwe, where he enjoys a comradely relationship with communist dictator Robert Mugabe:

The most serious thing we’ve heard this morning from quite reliable sources from Tripoli is that somebody, a Libyan called from within Bab al-Azizia, called his cousin and said: “Look, Gaddafi is preparing his private plane to flee and fly out to Zimbabwe.”

The report says that Gaddafi’s own private plane is loaded with gold bullion and lots of hard currency, mainly dollars, and is preparing to flee to Zimbabwe with his friend Robert to stay there in the safety of his friend Robert Mugabe.

We think this could happen very shortly because the Security Council is threatening to impose a no-fly zone and we think that Gaddafi will try to escape before this no-fly zone is imposed, possibly by tomorrow [February 25].

Waiting for the “Lunatic of Libya” in Zimbabwe–should this scenario unfold–will be another deposed dictator, red tyrant Mengistu Haile Mariam, who has enjoyed a sedate retirement in a Harare suburb since fleeing Ethiopia 20 years ago.

There is no question that Qaddafi has been closely monitoring events in Tunisia and Egypt, where popular revolutions have ousted two presidents since mid-January. Through his son and heir apparent Saif, Qaddafi began shipping 4,000 mercenaries into the country two days before anti-regime protests erupted in the eastern city Benghazi. This is the testimony of Libyan Air Force Major Rajib Faytouni, who said he personally witnessed up to 4,000 mercenaries arrive on Libyan transport planes over a period of three days starting from Monday, February 14. Faytouni explained: “That’s why we turned against the government. That and the fact there was an order to use planes to attack the people.”

We suspect communist dictator Hugo Chavez, who has made no public comment about the uprising that dethroned his bud in Libya, has also been monitoring the revolutions in North Africa with obvious concern over his own fortunes in Venezuela. In any event, Qaddafi’s “duck” is finally cooked. It remains to be seen which Arab dictatorship will go down next.

>Africa File: Ukrainian mercenaries piloting Libyan air force fighter jets, cargo planes, responsible for bombing civilians in anti-Qaddafi protests

>– Qaddafi Orders Loyalists to Blow Up Libya’s Oil Pipelines as Rebel Forces Advance on Capital and Crude Shoots Up to US$117 Per Barrel

– Medvedev Identifies “Outside Forces” (CIA) for Fomenting Chechen and Arab Unrest, Deputy PM Sechin Blames Egyptian Revolution on Google (?!)

Pictured above: On Wednesday, Russians evacuated from Libya exit an Emergency Situations Ministry jet at Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport.

On Thursday, Kiev-based newspaper Segodnya confirmed that “Mercenary pilots from Ukraine are flying Libyan air force planes supporting the regime of embattled Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi.” Additional quotes from this source:

The Ukrainian pilots, some of whom hold senior rank in the Libyan air force, operate MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighter jets, as well as An-12 and An-26 cargo planes. Stratfor, a private firm that does political analysis, reported on Tuesday that Ukrainian mercenaries piloted planes that had bombed hundreds of protesters near the Libyan capital Tripoli. A spokesman at Ukraine’s embassy in Tripoli denied that report.

The pilots receive between 2,000 and 8,000 dollars a month, Segodnya reported, citing Ukrainian combat flyers. A Ukrainian aircraft repair and overhaul facility reportedly has provided maintenance support for Libyan air force aircraft since 2008.

Ukrainian military professionals fighting on other nations’ behalf have landed the former Soviet republic in hot water repeatedly. The most controversial recent incidents involved Ukrainian helicopter gunship pilots attacking Albanian rebels for the Macedonian government in 2001, and Ukrainian missile gunners shooting down Russian aircraft for Georgia during the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.

Russia has evacuated more than 300 citizens from Libya, as well as Ukrainians, Armenians, and Kazakhs. About 1,000 Russians, reports The Moscow Times, remain in the North African country, awaiting evacuation via ferries, presumably to the European Union.

Meanwhile, in Tripoli, Russia’s long-time ally, strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi and some 5,000 loyalists in the military are digging in, preparing to resist anti-government troops who have advanced within 50 kilometers of the national capital. “People’s committees” armed with automatic weapons patrol towns that have fallen to 40,000 anti-regime military units.

The uprising in Libya, which began with anti-government protests in Benghazi on February 15, has crippled the economy. “The uprising has virtually wiped out Libyan oil exports, said the head of Italy’s ENI, Libya’s biggest foreign oil operator,” the Irish media reports, noting: “The unrest has driven world oil prices up to around $117 a barrel, stoking concern about the economic recovery.” Crazy man Qaddafi has threatened to blow up oil pipelines that supply the EU with 10 percent of its energy requirements.

This week, Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev blamed “outside forces” for fomenting unrest that toppled the socialist dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, that presently emperils Libya’s, and that intends to dismember Russia. With a dark nod toward an alleged conspiracy between Chechen terrorists and the US Central Intelligence Agency, Soviet Komsomol grad Medvedev rumbled: “Let’s face the truth. They [USA] have been preparing such a scenario for us, and now they will try even harder to implement it. In any case, this scenario will not work.”

Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin went so far as to name Google as a force behind the “regime change” in Egypt. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Sechin stated: “One should examine closer the events in Egypt, to look into what high-profile Google managers had been doing in Egypt, what kind of manipulations with the people’s energy had taken place there.”

>Africa/Latin America Files: Ortega, Castro defend Qaddafi as strongman flies in ex-Soviet special forces to crush uprising; Italian FM: 1,000 dead

>– Rebellious Military Units, Anti-Regime Activists Hold Libya’s 2nd Largest City Benghazi, Eastern Part of Country

– Qaddafi’s Son Saif Coordinating Flights for “White Mercenary” Units from Russia and Eastern Europe, Many Ex-Soviet Special Forces

– Hired Gunmen from Sub-Saharan Africa Roam Streets of Tripoli as Anti-Regime Protesters Raise Pre-1969 National Flag

– Exiled Spiritual Leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Returns to Cairo, Issues Fatwa against Qaddafi, Urges Libyan Soldiers to Kill Dictator

– Algeria’s Ruling National Liberation Front Lifts 19-Year-Old State of Emergency in Bid to Halt North Africa’s Revolutionary Wave

– Former Contra Commander Assassinated in Nicaragua’s Northern Mountains, “Comandante Jahob” Declared New Insurgency against Sandinistas in July 2010

Pictured above: Libyans stand on an army tank at the state security compound in Benghazi, which is now controlled by anti-government troops. Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi never trusted the military and therefore turned to East Germany’s Stasi to build up his power base in the secret police.

The dominos of socialist dictatorship are falling across North Africa, but what will take their place? Tunisians ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January, while Egyptians ousted President Hosni Mubarak earlier this month. Anti-regime protesters profess to champion the establishment of democracy in these countries. However, in both cases long-exiled Muslim clerics swiftly returned to rally the region’s religious fundamentalists, prompting many observers to speculate that Iran may try to export its Islamic revolution to Tunisia and Egypt before democracy takes root there.

Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi appears to be the next target of this revolutionary wave. He not only faces a popular uprising inspired by the democratic revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, but also a widespread mutiny within the military and police, defections among senior officials and diplomats, and an Islamic insurgency that includes groups like the Islamic Emirate of Barqa.

With the help of his Presidential Guard and ruthless mercenaries consisting of ex-Soviet special forces, as well as hired killers from Chad and Sudan, Qaddafi is barely holding onto the capitol Tripoli. Britain’s Daily Mail reports:

Most of the ‘white mercenaries’ are believed to be from former Soviet Union countries, including the Ukraine, and have been identified by their language and by those captured and interrogated before being killed. Many carry passports and identification papers from the armies for which they were once regular soldiers. Gaddafi’s son and heir Saif is understood to be co-ordinating the mercenaries’ operations.

Air force officer Major Rajib Faytouni said he personally witnessed up to 4,000 mercenaries arrive on Libyan transport planes over a period of three days starting from February 14. Faytouni stated: “That’s why we turned against the government. That and the fact there was an order to use planes to attack the people.”

On Tuesday, in a 75-minute shrieking rant aired on state television, Qaddafi brandished his “Green Book,” vowed to die as a “martyr” for “Islamic socialism,” and urged followers to do the same: “I am not a president to step down … This is my country. Muammar is not a president to leave his post. I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired … when I do, everything will burn. Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs … Starting tomorrow the cordons will be lifted, go out and fight them.”

Islamic fundamentalists in other countries have made no attempt to disguise their contempt for long-time Moscow ally Qaddafi. The spiritual leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, who lately returned to his homeland from exile in Qatar, issued a fatwa (death sentence) against the Libyan leader. “Whoever in the Libyan army is able to shoot a bullet at Mr. Gaddafi should do so,” Yusuf al-Qaradawi told Al-Jazeera television.

By contrast, some of Qaddafi’s venerable Latin American allies have rallied to his defense. On Tuesday, Nicaragua’s past/present Marxist dictator Daniel Ortega admitted that he has telephoned Qaddafi several times over the past few days to express Nicaragua’s solidarity with Libya. On Monday, during an event commemorating revolutionary hero Augusto Sandino, Ortega downplayed Qaddafi’s brutal crackdown by declaring: “Gadhafi is again waging a great battle to defend the unity of his nation. It’s at difficult times that loyalty and resolve are put to the test.”

Comandante Ortega’s comments do not bode well for Nicaraguans who last December opposed the passage of Sandinista-sponsored “national defense” bills that could easily resurrect Ortega’s Cold War-era dictatorship.

In his weekly Reflections column, cadaverous ex-dictator Fidel Castro went further than his disciple Ortega by weaving a conspiracy theory that pits unfortunate Libya against the world’s sole superpower “For me, what is absolutely clear,” frets Comrade Fidel, “is that the government of the United States is not in the least worried about peace in Libya and it will not hesitate in giving NATO the order to invade that rich country, perhaps in a matter of hours or a few short days.”

Qaddafi is also chummy with Venzuela’s communist dictator Hugo Chavez, who has issued no public comments on the crackdown in Libya. However, this Monday Chavez’s foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, denied reports that the Libyan strongmen fled his homeland in search of asylum in Venezuela. Maduro acknowledged that he spoke with Libyan counterpart Moussa Koussa, who apparently insisted that “Gaddafi is in Tripoli, exercising the powers given to him by the state and addressing the situation in the country, thereby refuting the comments made to the press in an irresponsible manner by British Foreign Secretary William Hague.” Both Chavez and Qaddafi have made official visits to the other’s country.

The pro-Washington government of Peruvian President Alan Garcia has suspended diplomatic ties with Libya, becoming the first country anywhere to take such a measure.

According to Italian Foreign Minister Frattini, Qaddafi loyalists and reputed mercenaries in the employ of the tottering regime have bombed and gunned down 1,000 civilians since the first anti-government protests erupted in Benghazi on February 15. Italy imports 25 percent of its oil from the North African country. Frattini has enjoined Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who faces embarrassing charges of consorting with prostitutes, to use his close personal ties with Qaddafi to pressure the strongman to halt the crackdown.

After the First World War, Italy took over Libya from the Ottoman Empire. During the 1920s and 1930s, Italy’s ruling National Fascist Party adopted a hard line against Arab nationalists in Libya. General Rodolfo Graziani, who led the “pacification” of the Libyan rebels, was known as the “butcher of Fezzan.”

Today, NATO country Italy has a separate treaty of friendship with Libya, one provision of which states: “Italy will not use or will not permit the use of its own territories in any hostile act against Libya and Libya will not use, nor permit the use of its own territories in any hostile act against Italy.” This would seem to prevent the unlikely scenario painted by Comrade Fidel.

Libya’s opposition groups are organized under the banner of the National Conference for the Libyan Opposition, which includes the main organization known as the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), as well as the Libyan League for Human Rights, Libyan Tmazight Congress, Committee for Libyan National Action in Europe, and the Warfalla and Tuareg tribes.

Founded in 1981, leftists allege that the NFSL is financed and trained by the US Central Intelligence Agency. On May 8, 1984, NFSL commandos took part in a daring attack on the Bab al-Aziziyah barracks near Tripoli, in an attempt to assassinate the Libyan leader. The NFSL Executive Committee is currently led by Secretary General Ibrahim Abdulaziz Sahad, who was re-elected for a second term during the 5th National Congress, held in the USA in July 2007.

With the help of military units who defected from the Qaddafi regime, the opposition has assumed control over Libya’s second largest city, Beghazi, which had been the focal point of anti-Qaddafi unrest. The mainstream media, in fact, reports that much of eastern Libya is firmly under rebel control. The Canadian media reports that the Libyans have raised pre-Qaddafi national flags in cities and town throughout the country, including in the suburbs of Tripoli:

Outside the Libyan capital, anti-government protesters have asserted their control in a number of areas in the eastern part of the country. But on Wednesday, witnesses said that some protesters were making their presence known in areas much closer to Tripoli.

In the city of Misurata, about three hours east of the capital, people were seen honking their horns and raising pre-Gadhafi flags. Local doctor Faraj al-Misrati said the people in Misurata had formed committees to protect the city, keep the streets clean and treat the injured. “The solidarity among the people here is amazing, even the disabled are helping out,” al-Misrati told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

A Facebook page showed video of anti-government protesters raising a pre-Gadhafi flag on the outskirts of Tripoli in Zawiya. Another video showed protesters using cement blocks and flaming tires to fortify their positions on a public square in Tripoli. None of the content in the videos could be independently confirmed.

The Associated Press reports that anti-government protesters have taken control of nearly the entire eastern half of Libyan’s 1,600-kilometre Mediterranean coast. They are backed by army units who have defected from Gadhafi’s control.

On Wednesday, Qaddafi loyalists and their imported killers renewed attacks against civilians in the capital, pushing up the price of crude in New York for the fifth consecutive day to US$100. Many countries with citizens working in Libya, including Russia, have scrambled to organize evacuation flights and sailings.

Elsewhere in the Arab world, anti-regime protests continue in Bahrain, Yemen, and Algeria, where the ruling National Liberation Front formally lifted a 19-year-old state of emergency in a bid to pre-empt a Tunisia/Egypt-style putsch.

Meanwhile, sinister developments in Nicaragua provide some context for Ortega’s rush to defend old comrade Qaddafi. On February 13, in the mountains of northern Nicaragua unidentified assailants posing as farmers assassinated former Contra leader José Gabriel Garmendia, whose nom de guerre was “Comandante Jahob.” Unconfirmed media reports claim he was shot dead by Nicaraguan soldiers or intelligence officers who had infiltrated his camp. Tellingly, neither the Nicaraguan Army nor the National Police has commented on the incident.

Last July, Garmendia launched a “one-man” insurgency against the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). In response, Ortega and top military brass downplayed Jahob’s mini-rebellion, accusing him of being a “common delinquent with ties to drug traffickers and coup-conspiring Honduran military officials.”

Former Contra Felix Pedro Cruz, who still goes by the code name “Comandante Jehu,” claims Garmendia had mustered 3,000 armed men—a statistic disputed by the army—to prosecute his new war against the Sandinistas. “They have only made him into a martyr. His death will serve to unite all the divided contra movements into one,” said Cruz, who believes his comrade in arms is still alive. “It’s not the first time rumors of his death have been reported by the media.” However, a wake held for Garmendia in Estelí on February 15 suggests that Comandante Jahob is well and truly dead.

Since his re-election in 2006, after a 16-year hiatus, Ortega has snuggled up to old allies in Russia, Cuba, Libya, and North Korea, forged new allies in Iran and Venezuela, made a trip to Moscow, welcomed top Russian officials to Managua, cracked down on press freedoms, harassed opposition parties, modernized the never-used Soviet-built air base at Punta Huete, begun construction of an inter-oceanic canal, and sent troops to occupy a Costa Rican island.

>Africa File: Libyan oil terminals blocked, customer Italy worried, Egypt’s military rulers reinforce western border, fleeing Egyptians report carnage

>– Senior Libyan Officials and Diplomats Resign, Air Force Pilots Defect, Protest Qaddafi’s Bloody Crackdown on Regime Opponents

– Qaddafi Employing Mercenaries from Chad and Sudan to Suppress Anti-Regime Uprising

– Rebels Reportedly Control Eastern Part of Libya, Pro-Regime Forces Holding Out in Capital Tripoli

– Qaddafi’s Son Blames Egypt for Uprising, 1 to 1.5 Million Egyptians in Libya

Pictured above: Palestinian students in Gaza express their contempt for Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi in a demonstration sanctioned by Gaza Strip rulers Hamas.

– The Voice of America reports today: The Libyan military continues to crack down on anti-government protesters, prompting an international outcry. Some Libyan officials are also calling for the violence to stop. Witnesses in the capital, Tripoli, and other cities report more attacks by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Some say the violence is being carried out by people they describe as mercenaries, apparently from sub-Saharan Africa. The day before, witnesses said helicopter gunships fired on the demonstrators

Reuters reports today: Flows from marine oil terminals in Libya were halted on Tuesday and the energy supply situation in the north African country is causing concern, an Italian government source said.

– “The situation is worrying. This morning the oil terminals were blocked in Libya,” the source said. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is using tanks, helicopters and warplanes to combat a growing and bloody revolt in Libya, which supplies 25 per cent of Italy’s crude oil.

Same source reports: Egypt’s new military rulers reinforced their border with Libya on Tuesday and opened the frontier round-the-clock to thousands fleeing the turmoil unleashed by the revolt against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

– Egypt, which borders Libya to the east, was planning to send at least four aircraft to evacuate its citizens from Tripoli, pending permission from Libyan air traffic authorities.

– The Egyptian army said on Monday that Libyan forces had withdrawn from their side of the frontier and had been replaced by “people’s committees”, though it was not clear whether or not they were loyal to Gaddafi.

MSM reports: Libya’s ambassador to Indonesia has resigned to protest a bloody crackdown against protesters by his government. Salaheddin M. El Bishari told the English-language Jakarta Post newspaper in an exclusive interview: “Soldiers are killing unarmed civilians mercilessly. Using heavy weaponry, fighter jets and mercenaries against its own people. It is not acceptable. I have enough of it. I don’t tolerate it anymore.”

>Africa File: Chaos in Libya: Troops kill 200 protesters, some soldiers defect to anti-regime forces, Qaddafi reportedly flees to Venezuela

>Pictured here: On February 21, 2011, two Libyan Air Force colonels defected to Malta after refusing to attack anti-regime protesters. They made their getaway in state property: two Mirage fighter jets.

The revolutionary wave that has engulfed the Arab world since January crashed over Libya this past week. Long-time Soviet ally Muammar al-Qaddafi’s four-decade socialist dictatorship is tottering on collapse.

BBC has reported that automatic gunfire and tear gas have been fired at demonstrators in Tripoli and some government buildings have been burned to the ground.

– Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, warned on state TV that a “civil war” was imminent. “There is a plot against Libya,” said Saif, citing that “an Islamic group with a military agenda” was behind the turmoil.

– The US State Department said it is “gravely concerned with disturbing reports and images coming out of Libya.”

– Two Libyan air force colonels defect, fly Mirage fighter jets to Malta after refusing to attack protesters.

Arab League demands end of violence in Libya as mutinous soldiers fight and defeat Qaddafi’s elite guards.

Armed rebels attack Suncor oil rig in Libya, three Canadian and dozens of other oil workers flee into desert.

– Qaddafi himself appeared on state television on Tuesday morning, insisting that he was somewhere in Tripoli and not in Venezuela, as reported by Al-Arabiya.

>Africa/Middle East Files: Anti-Qaddafi riots hit Libya, 84 killed as Tunisia-inspired protesters in Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, Iran demand regime change

>– Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Represented on Army-Backed Committee to Propose Constitutional Amendments

– Syrian President’s Cousin, Living in Exile in London, Warns Ba’athist Regime to “Change or Be Changed”

– Israel Denounces Iranian “Provocation” as Tehran’s Warships Request Permission to Transit Suez Canal, Sail to Syria

Pictured above: Demonstrators opposed to the regime of Libya’s Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi gather in Hyde Park, London, on February 17, 2011.

Poverty, high unemployment, and decades of political oppression are the primary catalysts for the protests gripping North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and other parts of the Muslim world.

Following the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last Friday, the army has suspended the constitution and is ruling by decree. On February 18, thousands of pro-democracy supporters converged in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for a day of celebration marking one week since the socialist dictator stepped down. In attendance was leading Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who called on the army “to listen to the will of the people” by introducing new blood into Mubarak’s former cabinet, which still includes many of the ex-president’s allies.

Both the 82-year-old Mubarak and his almost equally old vice president, Omar Suleiman, who announced Mubarak’s resignation on state television, vanished last Friday. Rumors suggest that Mubarak is still keeping a low profile at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, but his health is apparently poor. One report states that Mubarak has passed out on several occasions, while others suggest that he is suffering from assorted ailments, everything from depression to cancer.

This week, Egyptian workers continued to strike in various professions. The strikes shut down state and private banks, public transit, and ambulance services. Egypt’s stock exchange plans to reopen next week at the earliest.

Meanwhile, the pro-Iran, anti-Israel Muslim Brotherhood professes to have no political aspirations but, nevertheless, has announced its intention to organize itself as a formal political party. On the one hand, Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie discoursed at the organization’s website:

The revolution has started to bear fruit. Egyptians should not allow the chance for opportunists to kidnap it and its accomplishments. This is an Egypt that cannot be deceived. We will not seek the presidency or a parliamentary majority in free and fair elections, as promised by the military council. We have no appetite for the presidency, or a majority or temporal positions.

On the other hand, in a separate statement on the Brotherhood website, spokesman Mohammed Mursi conceded: “The Muslim Brotherhood group believes in the freedom of the formation of political parties. They are eager to have a political party.” The Brotherhood, which advocates the establishment of an Islamic fundamentalist state in Egypt, has a member on the judicial committee set up by the ruling military council to propose constitutional amendments. In the wake of the collapse of the National Democratic Party regime, the Brotherhood is enjoying “unprecedented recognition” from the state that banned it for three decades.

Incidentally, an Iranian academic, Mohammad-Javad Larijani, who is Secretary General of the misnamed High Council for Human Rights, alleges that “senior Egyptian military commanders are under the influence of CIA and Mossad.” Last Sunday night, Larijani, a mathematician educated at the University of California at Berkeley, told IRIB Channel 2:

The Egyptian military officials do not dare to make any problem for the United States and this is why Washington insists on empowerment the Egyptian military. The West has been trying to censor news of Egypt so that the world does not get true information about the country. The movement of Egyptians should be pursued based on Islamic principles, anti-American and anti-Zionism.

The revolutionary wave that began last month in Tunisia has finally crashed across neighboring Libya, where anti-regime protesters in the country’s second largest city, Benghazi, demanded the ouster of long-time strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi.

On Wednesday morning, hundreds of anti-Qaddafi protesters staged a “day of rage” over the arrest of a human rights activist, clashing with police and pro-regime stooges. Anti-regime protesters hurled petrol bombs at their opponents and torched cars. A witness told Reuters by telephone: “There were about 500 or 600 people involved. They went to the [government’s] revolutionary committee in Sabri district, and they tried to go to the central revolutionary committee [where] . . . they threw stones.”

Middle East experts like Charles Gurdon at Menas Associates question whether Libyans will oust their dictator, as did Tunisians and Egyptians, but he then comments: “Having said that, after Tunisia people said that Egypt would not be the same. A lot will depend on how heavy-handed the security forces are.”

In an effort to buoy up the regime, state TV reported pro-government rallies in the capital Tripoli, as well as Benghazi. Under portraits of Qaddafi, supporters shouted: “We sacrifice our blood and souls for you, our leader! We are a generation built by Muamar and anyone who opposes it will be destroyed!” At the same time, the Qaddafi regime appeared to make some concessions to the country’s Islamic opposition by releasing 110 men jailed for membership in the banned Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. In 1996 the prison used to incarcerate Islamic militants was the site of a violent clash with police, leading to the killing of 1,000 inmates.

On Thursday, reports the Israeli media, anti-Qaddafi protests erupted in four cities, provoking confrontations with more pro-regime rent-a-mobs. An opposition website alleges that security forces killed 14 protesters in the city of Beyida. Like Egypt’s opposition, anti-Qaddafi activists are using Facebook and Twitter to organize nationwide demonstrations. Hard news of the uprising in Libya is hard to come by as the state media refuses to acknowledge the incidents. On Friday, security forces gunned down 35 participants in a funeral procession in Benghazi, bringing the total number slain in Libya’s protests t0 84.

Inspired by Gamal Nasser in Egypt, military officer Qaddafi seized power from the Libyan monarch in 1969, proclaimed a party-less socialist republic, quickly allied his country with the Soviet Union, sponsored terrorist attacks in Europe in the 1980s, and armed and trained African revolutionaries in the 1990s. In 1986, following the Libyan-orchestrated bombing of a nightclub in West Berlin that killed two US servicemen, President Ronald Reagan dispatched the US Navy to take out Qaddafi’s residence in Tripoli and assorted military installations.

To this day, Qaddafi remains a close ally of Russia, promotes the socialist/communist-dominated African Union, over which he was lately chairman, and enjoys a cozy relationship with Venezuela’s communist dictator, Hugo Chavez.

In Algeria, which shares a border with both Tunisia and Libya, the long-ruling National Liberation Front regime has shut down the Internet, which has become a powerful networking tool for anti-government activists throughout the region. On February 14, Algeria’s foreign minister, Mourad Medelci, told French radio Europe 1 that his government would shortly lift the 20-year state of emergency, days after protesters took to the streets to demand government reform.

“Soon, we will discuss the past, but I say that lifting the state of emergency will occur in the coming days. It will mean a return to Algeria, a rightful state which totally allows the expression of opinions, but always with reference to the law.” The minister downplayed the protests, referring to them as “minority” movements. Earlier this month, Algeria’s socialist dictator, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, said he would lift the ban in the “very close future.”

The state of emergency was imposed in 1992 to crush an Islamic insurgency that led to the deaths of what US officials estimate to be more than 150,000 people. The Algerian civil war lasted more than a decade. “It pitted a corrupt military junta, which had ruled behind the facade of an elected government, against Islamists who effectively won a popular election in the early 1990s, and were then deprived of power,” explained the Centers for Strategic and International Studies recently. Opponents of the FLN regime say the Islamist threat has long since evaporated and the law exists only to silence government critics.

On February 12, The Telegraph reported that 30,000 riot police deployed throughout Algiers to thwart the anti-regime protests. The government also shut down Internet providers and deleted Facebook accounts across Algeria. “The government doesn’t want us forming crowds through the internet,” said Rachid Salem, a spokesman for Coordination for Democratic Change in Algeria. “Security forces are armed to the teeth out on the street, and they’re also doing everything to crush our uprising on the internet. Journalists, and especially those with cameras, are being taken away by the police.”

Last Saturday, at least 500 anti-regime protesters were arrested in Algiers alone, with hundreds more in Annaba, Constantine, and Oran taking part in the so-called February 12 Revolution. “The police station cells are overflowing,” related Sofiane Hamidouche, a demonstrator in Annaba. “There are running battles taking place all over the city. It’s chaos. As night falls the situation will get worse.”

On February 17, 1,500 protesters in Yemen clashed with government loyalists, who were armed with daggers and batons, as the former demanded the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32-year rule over both the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and the reunited Republic of Yemen. “The people want the fall of the president, the people want the fall of the regime,” chanted the protesters. Dozens were wounded and carried away from the scene. Thursday’s bloodshed represented the seventh consecutive day of anti-regime protests in Sanaa.

President Saleh is an ally in the USA’s “War on Terror,” but a third of the population in his country faces severe hunger while 40 percent live on less than US$2 a day. The government is struggling to finalize a truce with Iran-backed Shia Muslim rebels in the north and quell an increasingly violent separatist movement in the south, which vows to restore the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Khaled Fattah, a scholar at Scotland’s St. Andrews University, comments on the anti-regime protests in Yemen:

Saleh may prove harder to topple than Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The continuity of protests, however, may put pressure on Saleh’s government to offer more political concessions to the Southern Movement. Such concessions might lead to the adoption of a federal system.

To placate his many foes, Saleh has pledged to step down when his term ends in 2013 and promised not to let his son “inherit” the presidency. Last week, a court in Aden initiated a trial in absentia for Southern Movement leader Shalal Ali Shia on charges of inciting a revolt against the central government and targeting security forces. Southern Yemen is home to most of the country’s oil facilities.

Elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, Bahrainis are demanding the ouster of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, a member of the Sunni Muslim royal family who has held the post for 40 years, and the implementation of democratic reforms. On Thursday morning, police fired tear gas at protesters after hundreds gathered at the funeral of a demonstrator who died in clashes two days before. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said in an emailed statement that two people were killed during Thursday’s illegal protests.

According to Mahdi Mattar, head of research at Abu Dhabi-based CAPM Investment PJSC, “Investors are de-risking due to the events in Bahrain mainly. Both local and the few international investors might want to reduce their exposure.” Tiny Bahrain is also home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. From this location, the US military can monitor and, if necessary, intimidate the radical Islamic regime in Iran.

During Tuesday’s clashes between protesters and security forces, police blocked the main roads into Bahrain’s capital and used tear gas and bird shot to disperse marchers seeking admission into Manama.

Elsewhere in the Muslim world, on Wednesday supporters and opponents of the Iranian government clashed at a funeral for a student shot dead during an opposition rally, with both sides claiming him as one of their own. State TV showed thousands of government supporters at Tehran University for the funeral of Sanee Zhaleh, one of two people shot dead on Monday. The opposition rally, which expressed support for the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, was the first major unrest in Iran since a wave of arrests, trials, and at least two executions took place after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009.

The USA’s crypto-Muslim president, Barack Hussein Obama, commented on the unrest in Iran: “I find it ironic that you’ve got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when in fact they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully.”

Finally, the socialist dictatorship in Damascus has been spared the unrest sweeping across the region, but this week the cousin of President Bashar al-Assad urged the Syrian dictator that “he must change or be changed.” Living in exile in London, where he manages the Organization for Democracy and Freedom in Syria, Ribal declared: “We do not want a revolution in Syria. We want the government to start to implement change, peaceful change.”

As political unrest continues in Egypt, the Suez Canal has become a focus of concern for the West, including Israel, the USA’s only reliable ally in the Middle East. Last Tuesday, a ship ran aground in the strategically important and economically vital canal due to engine failure in poor weather. “A cargo ship ran aground due to an engine malfunction in the southern sector of the canal, blocking five ships behind it,” a maritime source told Reuters. The source could not indicate when sea traffic would resume. Five of Egypt’s Red Sea ports were also closed on Tuesday due to bad weather.

According to international law, which Egypt’s ruling military council has pledged to uphold, Cairo cannot forbid any vessel from passing through the canal unless that country is at war with Egypt. Ahmed El-Manakhly, transit director at the Suez Canal Authority, reminded the world of this fact in a February 17 interview with Bloomberg Television. However, a country that is effectively at war with Egypt’s neighbour Israel, Iran, has requested permission for two of its warships to transit the canal.

Bloomberg, citing the Islamic Republic News Agency, reports: “The vessels will go to Syria, where they will anchor ‘for a few days’ on a trip that is ‘routine according to international law’ and part of Iran’s strategic relations with Syria . . .” The information originated from Iran’s ambassador in Damascus, Ahmad Mousavi. “The request is being studied,” Hossam Zaki, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, acknowledged on February 18. “Whether or not they actually send them is another story.”

The Israeli government considers the Iranian request to transit the Suez Canal a “provocation” and is monitoring the warships’ movements. Oil prices rose on Thursday after the Iranian state media confirmed reports that its warships are planning to navigate the canal.

>Communist Bloc Military Updates: RF DM backtracks on military reform, re-hires 70,000 officers, Medvedev vows force deployment to S. Kuril Islands

>– US-Russian Nuclear Disarmament: A “New START” or Kremlin Smoke and Mirrors?

– Potential Military-Domestic Security Application for New Fiber Optic Cable Linking Cuba and Venezuela

Pictured above: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Munich Security Conference, on February 5, 2011.

On February 5, the US and Russian governments formally committed themselves to implementing the provisions of the New START treaty. Under this agreement, Washington and Moscow, which together possess 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, will establish deployment ceilings of 1,550 strategic warheads in seven years, up to 30 percent lower than in the 2002 Moscow treaty.

Last December, Russia’s KGB-communist dictator, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, told CNN’s Larry King: “Russia will be forced to build up its nuclear forces if the United States does not ratify the New Strategic Arms Ratification Treaty. That’s not our choice. We don’t want that to happen. But this is not a threat on our part. We’ve been simply saying that this is what all of us expects to happen if we don’t agree on a joint effort there.”

The new START treaty is the keystone in US President Barack Hussein Obama’s starry-eyed plan for global nuclear disarmament. The US Left, which controls the White House, is engaged in serious wishful thinking on this point. The neo-Soviet regime has no more intention of complying with “New START” than with any other bilateral disarmament arrangement concocted in the past. The fact that the Russians are anxious for their “US partners” to ratify the deal should raise red flags (pun intended).

At the same time, behind the Kremlin’s smoke and mirrors, Russian rearmament continues apace. In October 2008, Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov announced plans to cut the number of officers from 355,000 to 150,000 by 2012. According to Serdyukov, son-in-law of Gazprom’s chairman, “ex”-communist Viktor Zubkov, the Russian armed forces were “top-heavy” with an abundance of senior officers with little appreciation for post-Soviet warfare tactics. He determined that the overall strength of the military must be reduced to one million, while the number of officers should be maintained at 15 percent.

Early this month, according to Interfax, Serdyukov suddenly reversed his military reform policy, explaining that by next year the number of officers will be increased by 70,000, from 150,000 to 220,000. A pay increase will be forthcoming for Russia’s military commanders too. Serdyukov did not offer any “plausible explanation” for this about-face in defense posture, nor did he clarify whether redundant officers will be reinstated or new ones recruited. The defense minister only told journalists: “A decision has been taken, because we are forming additional military units – creating an entire new military branch – the military-space defense.”

Last year, Russia’s top general, Nikolai Makarov, First Deputy Defense Minister and Chief of the General Staff, announced that the defense ministry will form a joint “air-space defense system” (VKO) in 2011. “To form an umbrella to defend the state anytime from ballistic and medium range missiles as well as sea-, land- and air-launched cruise missiles,” Makarov told Novosti on December 14, 2010.

The new VKO will merge existing antiaircraft guided missile units with existing and future ballistic missile defense assets. However, observes independent Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, the new military formation “cannot possibly absorb” 70,000 additional officers this year or next. Apparently, only a small fraction of the additional officers will be serving in the new VKO. Serdyukov’s statement, therefore, was not a clarification, but an “arrogant rebuff of legitimate public concern.”

Felgenhauer notes, too, that Russia’s defense budget is typically cloaked in secrecy, approved by essentially one man–Putin—and rubber-stamped by the United Russia-dominated State Duma. The Russian military itself is experiencing a “severe manning crisis,” characterized by “virtually no quality NCO’s and little prospect to receive any soon.” Furthermore, conscript soldiers serve only for one year, are poorly trained and motivated, and their numbers are diminishing due to Russia’s demographic crisis, that is, a birth rate below replacement levels. Of course, this is a problem throughout Europe.

Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has adopted an aggressive stance on his country’s occupation of the South Kuril Islands, which Soviet troops invaded at the end of the Second World War. The island’s Japanese residents were expelled two years later. On February 9, during a meeting with defense and regional development ministers, Soviet Komsomol graduate Medvedev declared:

Everybody must understand that the South Kuril Islands are Russian territory. We will do everything we can to step up our strategic presence on the South Kuril Islands while developing friendly relations with our neighbors. There should be sufficient weaponry there to ensure the security of the islands as an unalienable part of Russia.

Medvedev visited the South Kurils last November. The conflicting claims over these islands north of Hokkaido are a sore spot in Moscow-Tokyo relations. The two countries are still technically at war since they signed no formal peace agreement in 1945.

Elsewhere in the Communist Bloc, on February 9, a long-awaited fiber optic cable linking Cuba and Venezuela reached the island, promising more and faster Internet and telephone service to the least “wired” country in the Western Hemisphere. Venezuela is financing the nearly 1,000-mile, 640-gigabyte-per-second, US$70 million cable, while the French company Alcatel-Lucent SA is actually laying the cable along the seafloor. The cable will be ready for use in July, explained Wilfredo Morales, president of Telecomunicaciones Gran Caribe, a joint venture between Cuba and Venezuela. It will also be extended to Jamaica.

The new telecommunication link between the communist states is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, freedom-loving Venezuelans–who are already deeply troubled by President Hugo Chavez’s close relationship with the Castro Bros., the presence of thousands of Cuban professionals in Venezuela, including in sensitive government, military, and security posts, and the communization of the Venezuelan economy–are not happy about the fiber optic cable.

“Cubans are all over the state immigration office, they’re all over [presidential palace] Miraflores, and the situation room,” complained Robert Bottome, editor of VenEconomia. He added: “We’re concerned about the increased communications between Cubans here, Cubans there and the Venezuelan people helping the Cubans. The access given to Cubans in Venezuela’s public institutions is alarming.” Enrique Marquez, a deputy from the opposition A New Era Party, opined: “It’s a useless investment for Venezuela. I haven’t seen a single benefit for the Venezuelan people in all of this. The only beneficiary is the Cuban regime.”

On the other hand, Cuban officials will no doubt carefully control the introduction of the Internet into their country. In 2007, spymaster Ramiro Valdez, now Cuba’s vice president and head of Venezuela’s energy commission, defended Havana’s restrictions on the Internet. Valdez declared that the Internet is the “wild colt of new technologies [which] can and must be controlled.”

Earlier this month, a video circulating online showed a Cuban interior ministry official warning his comrades that the government “must not cede cyberspace” to dissidents. “Technology by itself is not a threat. The threat is what someone who is behind the technology can do. They have their bloggers and we have our bloggers. We will fight to see who is stronger.”

Incidentally, this past Friday, Venezuela’s state-run telecommunications operator, Compania Anonima Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela, announced that it has finished laying a fiber-optic cable between the southern part of the country to northern Brazil. Earlier last week, both countries’ foreign ministers met in Caracas where they revealed plans to collaborate in agriculture and finance. Chavez and Brazil’s new president, “ex”-Marxist guerrilla Dilma Rousseff, are expected to meet during the first quarter of 2011.

Although Cuba and Venezuela have never held joint military exercises, the presence of Cuban military “advisers” in Venezuela has been discussed at this blog in past months. “Armored” fiber optic cable between the two countries could provide a secure communication link between the military commands in Havana and Caracas.

“Military-grade fiber optics,” advertises one manufacturer, Glenair, “are also known for their advanced tolerance to temperature extremes, immunity from electromagnetic interference and ease of integration into tested and qualified Mil-Spec interconnect cabling and connector packaging.” Another manufacturer, JEM Electronics, boasts: “With a stainless steel armored flexible tube inside the outer jacket and connectors, the rugged fiber optic cables come in 9/125, 50/125, and 62.5/125 micron sizes and custom lengths for harsh environments.”

It is not clear at this time if the new Cuban-Venezuelan fiber optic link is “military-grade,” or merely civilian in application. We can only watch as the Havana-Caracas Axis expands its operations. Since 99 percent of the world’s long-distance communications presently travel through fiber links, rather than satellite transmissions, signals interception in most cases can only take place by clandestinely tapping cables.

For its part, Russia’s Chelyabinsk-Khabarovsk fiber optic communication line, which is 10,000 kilometers long and features a minimum transmission rate of 120 gigabits per second, poses a “competitive match” for “traditional” submarine routes. In the future, operator Rostelecom plans to increase the rate to 4 terabits.

>Africa File: Mubarak reverses yesterday’s decision, hands power to armed forces, resignation ends 30-year dictatorship

>– Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff to Visit Israel, Jordan, Reassure Countries of America’s Support

– Muslim Brotherhood Website Alleges Israeli Embassy Still Closed in Cairo, Haaretz First Reports Closure on January 30

– Anti-Regime Protesters Clash with Police in Algeria and Yemen as Revolutionary Wave Washes across Arab World

Now we’re in big trouble.
— Zvi Mazel, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, quoted in Ynet News, February 11, 2011

The popular revolution in Egypt has achieved one of its main objectives. According to CNN, President Hosni Mubarak resigned on Friday, reversing the previous day’s decision to stay on until September elections, and handed over power to the military. The end of the three-decade Mubarak dictatorship follows 18 days of anti-government protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other cities, as well as country-wide labor strikes.

“In a somber one-minute announcement on state television,” reports CNN, “Vice President Omar Suleiman said Mubarak had resigned and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will ‘run the affairs of the country.'” The same source continues: “The Swiss government has directed banks to freeze all assets belonging to Mubarak and his family, said Norbert Baerlocher, a spokesman for the Swiss Embassy in Washington. The banks do not as yet have a clear picture of what Mubarak has but protesters on the streets had worried that he would attempt to flee the country with looted money.”

The Bulgarian media covered the Muslim Brotherhood’s response to Mubarak’s resignation: “‘I salute the Egyptian people and the martyrs. This is the day of victory for the Egyptian people,’ declared a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Mohamed el-Katatni, who is a former leader of the parliamentary bloc of the banned Islamist organization as cited by MSNBC.” The pro-Iran, anti-Israel Brotherhood’s role in any future Egyptian government has been the subject of much international media speculation.

The Egyptian army’s Supreme Council has asked the interim government of Vice President Suleiman to oversee the day-to-day aspects of national administration, while Mubarak himself has retreated to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The military has promised to hand over ultimate authority to an elected civilian government and to abide by all international agreements.

Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt was not optimistic about the future of relations between the neighbors. Zvi Mazel opined to Ynet News: “It’s over, Egypt is no longer a superpower. Egypt has completely lost its status in the area, while Turkey and Iran are on the way up. It’s a different world. As long as we had Mubarak, there was no void in our relations with the region. Now we’re in big trouble.”

According to the Muslim Brotherhood’s website, the Israeli embassy is still closed in Cairo in the wake of Mubarak’s departure. There is no independent confirmation of this report. However, on January 30, Haaretz reported that Israel had closed its embassy in Cairo and chartered an El Al plane to evacuate diplomatic families admidst the unrest in Egypt’s streets. “The embassy was closed all weekend,” the news source stated, “and will probably remain that way until the security situation stabilizes.”

In a related story, Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, will visit Israel and Jordan this weekend to assure the two countries of America’s support following the demise of the National Democratic Party regime in Egypt.

Inspired by the successful revolutions that ousted the socialist dictators in Tunisia and Egypt over the past four weeks, anti-regime protesters in Algeria and Yemen have once again defied government bans and clashed with police. Sky News reports that on Saturday several thousand protesters, including four lawmakers, assembled in the streets of Algiers to demand the ouster of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, while 2,000 demonstrators in Sanaa demanded President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s resignation.

>Africa File: Sudan’s genocidal Muslim dictator bows to referendum results, embattled oil-rich South to become independent state on July 9, 2011

>On Friday, 105 combatants and civilians were killed in a clash between rebels and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), South Sudan’s insurgent army turned military, shattering a brief ceasefire. “It was George Athor’s men who came with machine guns, AK 47s and started firing,” said South Sudan army spokesman Philip Aguer.

Athor took up arms last year, alleging fraud in state elections. However, he agreed to the ceasefire deal with the SPLM/A only days before January’s referendum on secession. The South’s regional government accused Athor of being an agent provocateur of the North, sent to stir up trouble and derail the referendum. Sudanese officials in Khartoum deny the charges.

Pictured above: Former South African President Thabo Mbeki (2nd from right) arrives with Southern Sudan Referendum Commission chairperson Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil (center) to announce the official referendum results in Khartoum, on February 7, 2011.

As it turned out, some 99 percent of southern Sudanese voted for independence in last month’s week-long vote, the results of which were announced on January 31. On July 9, the Republic of South Sudan will formally secede, becoming the world’s youngest independent state, and the older Republic of Sudan will no longer be Africa’s largest country.

Peter Martell, BBC’s correspondent in the South’s capital, Juba, predicts that Athor’s mini-insurgency is “another sign of the challenges the South faces in bringing its people together and improving security.” Last weekend, 50 people were killed in fighting in southern Sudan’s Upper Nile state.

The referendum marks the final phase of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which concluded 20 years of war between the government in Khartoum and the “ex”-Marxist SPLM/A in the South. This civil war reportedly claimed the lives of some two million people and left millions more displaced. SPLM/A battlefield commander Salva Kiir Mayardit, who is currently the Vice President of Sudan, will become the first president of the independent South Sudan.

Following the referendum, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir acknowledged his acceptance of the outcome. On Wednesday, Sudan’s ambassador to the United Nations hinted that the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Bashir should be withdrawn as a “reward” for him accepting the South’s independence. Bashir is accused of war crimes and genocide in a separate conflict in the western region of Darfur, where a different group of rebels, with backing from Chad’s dictator, took up arms in 2003. The African Union wants the warrant to be dropped, insisting that the priority should be to “secure peace.”

Although President Bashir would no doubt like to improve his genocidal image abroad, the truncated desert state of Sudan will remain a bloody Islamic dictatorship. On Thursday, security forces arrested the opposition Umma Party’s spokeswoman Mariam al-Mahdi, the latest detention in a crackdown on anti-government protests. Mariam is the daughter of Sadeq al-Mahdi, Sudan’s last democratically elected president who was overthrown by the current National Congress Party government in a 1989 bloodless coup.

“Security forces took her away before she could get into her car,” related cousin Habab Mubarak. Mahdi’s sister Rabah confirmed that Mariam had been detained. “We do not know where she is being held,” she told Reuters.

Inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in recent weeks, young Sudanese in the North have staged small demonstrations against food price hikes and chronic human rights abuses.

Upon secession, oil-rich South Sudan will lose access to both the Red Sea–much as Ethiopia lost its access in 1993, when Eritrea seceded from that ancient country–and the North’s petroleum infrastructure. Communist China has invested heavily in Sudan’s oil industry, which straddles the border region between the North and South. Anticipating secession, state-run China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which is responsible for producing about one half of Sudan’s 500,000 barrels per year, established a satellite office in Juba late last year.

Red China’s CNPC has a 40 per cent share in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC). The other consortium partners are Malaysia’s Petronas Carigali Overseas with 30 percent, India’s ONGC Videsh with 25 percent, and Sudan’s Sudapet with the remaining five percent. Under the current agreement, Khartoum and Juba split the Sudanese share of revenues equally. Apart from its oil revenue, South Sudan has a largely subsistence-based economy.

“Carving up the GNPOC Consortium along the border may have dire consequences for all parties involved,” warned a report by the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan. A senior CNPC official told the Financial Times the GNPOC companies are concerned that their contract with Sudan will be disturbed by the South’s secession. Thus, they have proposed that the drilling blocks be managed by a joint venture formed between the two new states.

“China has a substantial amount of oil interests in the south and one of the interesting parts is the very positive role that China has been playing behind the scenes,” commented David Abramowitz, policy director at Humanity United, a US human rights group.

Rather than rely on the North’s Port Sudan on the Red Sea, South Sudan’s ruling SPLM/A favors the construction of a pipeline, which Toyota Tsusho Corp. has proposed building from Juba to Kenya’s Lamu Island.

>Africa File: Strikes paralyze Egypt, Mubarak enrages protesters, refuses to step down until Sept., military backs transfer of powers to Suleiman

>– Former Iranian President Rafsanjani Urges Egyptian Protesters to Defy Mubarak, Overthrow Pro-USA/Israel Regime in Cairo

– Crypto-Muslim Obama Admin Anxious to Implement Regime Change in Cairo, Biden Phones Suleiman, Urges “Immediate Transition,” Abolition of Emergency Laws

– Communist Cadre Leads Anti-Mubarak Kefaya Movement, Allies with El Baradei’s National Association for Change

Pictured above: Protester outside presidential palace in Heliotropolis, a suburb of Cairo, on February 11, 2011.

Yesterday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced that he would transfer the day-to-day powers of governing the country to his vice president, former spy chief Omar Suleiman. In doing so, he reaffirmed his commitment to remain in his post until the presidential election in September. This only enraged anti-government protesters, who have demanded his immediate resignation. The military has pledged to facilitate the implementation of Mubarak’s proposed political reforms, which include eventually lifting oppressive 30-year-old emergency laws.

“Egypt will explode. Army must save the country now,” opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei posted on his Twitter page shortly after Mubarak made his announcement.

This week, widespread strikes erupted in Egypt in support of the anti-government protesters who continue to occupy Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Tens of thousands of workers in various sectors launched strikes nationwide, including employees in the petroleum, steel, railway, telecommunication industries, as well as employees of the Suez Canal Port Authority. Egypt’s anti-government protests, now entering their 17th day, sparked international fears that the Suez Canal would be shut down and send oil prices skyrocketing.

Egypt’s finance minister tried to mollify European and North American customers of Middle East oil. On CNN’s Connect the World, Samir Hadwan soothed: “All precautions are taken to prevent any sabotage from outside to the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal is safe and the Egyptian Army — I don’t talk on their behalf — but I can assure you it will do whatever is in its power to keep that open.”

Government officials have played up the “imminent threat of chaos” if the octogenarian president ends his autocratic rule by resigning forthwith. Striking medical doctors and a host of other health workers have joined the streets protests. On Thursday, medics wearing white coats streamed into Tahrir Square. A key Cairo hospital was reported to have been closed by strike action as an estimated 3,000 staff walked out.

On PBS’ NewsHour, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit raised the spectre of a military crackdown on the country’s opposition forces: “Do we want the armed forces to assume the responsibility of stabilizing the nation through imposing martial law and the army in the streets? For the army to rule, to step in, to put its friends on the scene, that would be a very dangerous possibility.” Speaking for Mubarak, Gheit continued: “He thinks that it would entail chaos and it would entail violence and it would entail also opportunities for those who would wish to act in a manner to threaten the state, the stability of the country and society,”

The Obama White House, which secretly sympathizes with the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best-organized opposition group, is anxious to implement regime change in Cairo. In a telephone conversation with counterpart Suleiman, the country’s former intelligence chief, US Vice President Joe Biden “urged that the transition produce immediate, irreversible progress that responds to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.”

Gheit expressed amazement at Biden’s reported demand that Egypt promptly lift its emergency laws, imposed after President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamic fundamentalists. Egypt’s foreign minister spluttered: “Jailbreaks mean that 17,000 prisoners are now loose on Egypt’s streets. How can you ask me to disband the… emergency law while I’m in difficulty? Give me time.”

On Tuesday, Suleiman himself raised the spectre of a coup, either pro- or anti-government, if the protests continue unabated: “There must be an end to the crisis as soon as possible. Dialogue and understanding are the best way to achieve stability in the country, otherwise an undesirable coup will be the alternative but we try to avoid this option.”

Meanwhile, the Islamo-Nazi regime in Tehran continues to meddle in Egypt’s domestic turmoil. “A leader like Imam Khomeini is needed for Egypt,” former two-term Iranian president Rafsanjani said in an interview with the Jomhuri Eslami newspaper, adding that “Only a leader like Khomeini can “resist the cheating of America.” Rafsanjani, who is a leading supporter of the opposition to current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pontificated:

In the end, Americans do not want the Egyptian uprising to drag on, while Israelis are completely against the revolution in Egypt. By coincidence, all things (in Egypt) are like Iran in 1979. If the Egyptian people continue to resist, they will succeed. It needs endurance. We too endured a lot of hardships in order to triumph over the shah. I am optimistic, if the Egyptians continue their resistance. The protesters must stay united. Division will benefit America and Israel.

The Supreme Leader of the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has praised the popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, calling on citizens there to establish Islamic states.

Behind closed doors, Egypt’s opposition parties are expressing different stances concerning further transition talks with Vice President Suleiman. The leftist Tagammu Party has announced that it will not pursue further negotiations after last weekend’s first round of negotiations, while the Muslim Brotherhood has stopped short of abandoning the talks, despite its stated misgivings about the government’s intentions. No date has been set for the second round of talks. “Unacceptable statements by officials have put participants in confrontation with the popular revolution,” Tagammu leaders complained in a press statement.

Presidential aspirant El Baradei, who was not invited to the first round, asserted that “the talks lack credibility and were being run by the same people who controlled Egypt for the past three decades.”

The international media continues to debate the extent of the threat posed by a Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. With respect to the true intentions of the Brotherhood, the Winnipeg Free Press reminds the West:

Revolution in Jordan seems unlikely at the moment. Revolution in Egypt, the home of the Muslim Brotherhood, seems imminent if President Hosni Mubarak will not resign before the elections scheduled for later this year, and if the groups demanding his resignation cannot form an opposition more credible than the Muslim Brotherhood.

While the Brotherhood tries to distance itself today from its terrorist cousins in al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas, it is useful to remember this is the same organization that routinely murdered Western tourists in Egypt in the 1970s and 1980s, is still linked with terrorist organizations in Sudan, Yemen and Syria and is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

Although they constitute a numerical minority, the Egyptian Communist Party is jockeying for power and influence in the country’s unfolding revolution. Founded in 2004, Kefaya (Enough) is one of several smaller coalitions of liberals, leftists, and Islamists that has allied itself with El Baradei’s National Association for Change. Since January 2007, the leader of Kefaya has been Abdel Wahhab Al-Messiri, a renowned anti-Zionist scholar and former cadre of both the Egyptian Communist Party and Muslim Brotherhood. In 2005, Kefaya joined a coalition of other opposition parties to form the National Front for Change to contest parliamentary elections, resulting in the attainment of only 12 seats, while the Muslim Brotherhood scored 88.

>Breaking News: State workers, medical doctors, other Egyptians strike, demand Mubarak’s immediate resignation

>Egypt’s revolution intensifies.

Labor walkouts across the country.

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani: Egyptian uprising needs a leader like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (who led Islamic Revolution in 1979)

>Neo-Sandinista File: Ortega re-election prospects buoyed by broken opposition, strong public opinion, economic surge with markets in Russia, Venezuela

>– Deceptive Sandinistas Withdraw Troops from Costa Rican Island while International Court of Justice Deliberates Border Row, Redeploy Soldiers after Hearing

– Sandinistas to Send Three More Dredges to San Juan River by February, Accelerate Construction of Inter-Oceanic Canal (with Silent Backing from Russia, Iran, Venezuela)

– Army-less Costa Rica Beefs Up Northern Border Defenses with Heliports, Antiaircraft Capabilities, River Barriers to Thwart Nicaraguan Boats

– Last December President Chinchilla Approached Obama and Clinton for Support in Border Row, Gets Cold Shoulder

– Former Interior Minister Tomas Borge Hosts Cuban Ambassador, Diplomats at Unveiling of Jose Marti Memorial at Masaya, Nicaragua

Although the political turmoil in the Arab world, especially Egypt, requires extensive reportage, developments in neo-Sandinista Nicaragua and its border row with Costa Rica deserve updated review and analysis.

Concurrently with the passage of new “national defense” bills that will enable Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to declare martial law ahead of this November’s elections, an independent survey from December showed Ortega leading in voter intention polls at an impressive 47.2 percent. Voter preference for Ortega was followed by undecided voters at 31 percent and, in third place, opposition candidate Fabio Gades at 14.4 percent.

Gades is a radio station owner and a deputy in the Central American Parliament for the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), which actually voted for Ortega’s incipient military government. Bringing up the rear in the survey was the hopelessly corrupt former president Arnoldo Aleman (1997-2002) at 7.4 percent. Like Gades, Aleman’s candidacy was approved by the PLC national convention.

Another poll, conducted in late January, suggests that Ortega’s surge in popularity dropped again, but he still came ahead of the other candidates. After reviewing the latest poll results, Aleman commented that the country’s divided opposition could conceivably beat Ortega and his leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) by forming an alliance.

Opposition lawmakers accuse Ortega of making a second run at transforming Nicaragua into a Cuban-style dictatorship, but have tried and failed to overturn a 2009 ruling in the Supreme Court that lifted a ban on re-election. The court, controlled by the FSLN, overturned a constitutional clause blocking consecutive terms.

In US State Department documents published by WikiLeaks, the Obama White House has accused Ortega of corruption and other crimes. One document states that Managua accepted “suitcases full of cash” from Communist Venezuela to fund the 2008 municipal elections, which sparked protests and accusations of fraud after they were swept by the Sandinistas.

Incidentally, Guatemala also votes for a new president in November as incumbent center-left President Alvaro Colom struggles to contain the increasingly violent activities of the Mexican drug cartels, such as Los Zetas, which have set up training camps in Guatemala’s northern jungles.

Ortega’s growing popularity may be attributable to Nicaragua’s unexpected economic resurgence. According to Nicaraguan economist Néstor Avendaño, the country has achieved a four percent economic growth rate, due mainly to increased exports, such as coffee, sugar, beef, and gold, especially to new markets like Russia and Venezuela. Avendaño predicted that exports will maintain an annual growth rate of around eight percent. For over 30 years, ever since the Sandinista Revolution and the subsequent civil war, Nicaragua has been the poorest country in Central America.

Meanwhile, the border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which we believe was manufactured to in part justify Ortega’s domestic power grab, continues to simmer.

Last October, Nicaragua began dredging operations in the San Juan River, provoking a fresh upswelling of animosity with neighbor Costa Rica. Putatively designed to remove sediment and improve navigability, Ortega later defiantly admitted his government’s intention of building a long-dreamed-of inter-oceanic canal. On January 10, 2011, the Nicaraguan daily La Prensa reported that the Sandinistas intend to deploy three more dredges on the San Juan by February 2011, bringing the total of machines in the area to four. According to Eden Pastora, the Sandinista revolutionary hero and official in charge of the task, the additional machines will reduce the dredging time from four years to one.

In spite of the planned arrival of more heavy equipment, last December Nicaraguan Colonel Juan Ramon Morales insisted that Managua does not intend to increase military forces along the river because “there is no situation that deserves more troops and soldiers in the area.” In late October at least 50 Nicaraguan soldiers set up camp on Isla Calero, which is situated at the river’s mouth but claimed by Costa Rica. On December 18, the Costa Rican Ministry of Public Security asserted that Nicaragua reinforced its military presence there with an additional 200 soldiers.

On January 11, the Nicaraguan army denounced alleged provocations by “dark interests tied to drug trafficking” in Costa Rica, such as invading Nicaragua and attacking military positions along the international border. Citing intelligence reports, Colonel Morales warned that “pertinent measures would be taken to repel any aggression on the sovereignty of Nicaragua.”

For its part, the government of President Laura Chinchilla has announced that it will “tighten security” along the border with 30 new outposts and patrols, mainly along the adjacent Colorado River, which is wholly in Costa Rican territory. Costa Rica has no military, but its National Police are well armed, a fact that long-time Moscow ally Ortega frequently highlights when he portrays Nicaragua as the “victim” of Costa Rican aggression.

In early January, Public Security Minister José Maria Tijerino announced that a series of heliports will be constructed near Nicaragua to establish a system of national defense. Tijerino explained that the heliports are defended by tactical forces of the National Police and have their own antiaircraft defense. Costa Rica has decided to erect barriers at the mouths of the Colorado, Sarapiqui, and San Carlos rivers to prevent the possible entrance of Nicaraguan boats. The barriers consist of piles and steel cables that form a fence along the three rivers, where patrol and toll posts are expected to limit navigation along some parts of the river.

On the diplomatic front, Costa Rica has brought several charges against Nicaragua before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), including environmental damage, not to mention military invasion of the area. A hearing is underway at The Hague, but a full court case could be years before it is heard. Ortega, who demands discussions “without conditions,” has failed to attend several regionally mediated encounters with Costa Rican counterpart Chinchilla in order to resolve the border dispute.

In general, Washington has heaved a great big sigh of disinterest over the new conflicts in Central America. Last December, Chinchilla telephoned US counterpart Barack Hussein Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to secure their support in her dispute with Ortega, but the White House expressed little interest.

The deceptive intentions of the neo-Sandinista regime were again evident over the past week, when the Costa Rican public security minister announced that the Nicaraguan soldiers had “vanished” from the disputed Isla Calero, even as ICJ justices debated the merits of the conflicting cases presented by both countries.

After conducting flyovers of the San Juan River and Isla Calero on January 29 and January 31, Tijerino, flanked by Foreign Minister René Castro, announced that Nicaraguan soldiers were no longer present on the island. Nevertheless, both Tijerino and Castro alluded to their possible return: “[The absence of troops] does not necessarily mean that Nicaragua has abandoned the area. It could mean that the forces are hidden. On previous occasions they have come and gone… and this does not guarantee that it is safe for Costa Ricans to return to navigate the river region.” Castro labeled the supposed withdrawal a Nicaraguan “ploy,” remarking: “No announcement had been made by Managua of the apparent withdrawal of Nicaraguan forces. Nicaragua has a history of acting in bad faith.”

However, over the weekend of February 5-6, journalists from The Tico Times “observed several armed, camouflaged soldiers located on the south side of the Río San Juan on the disputed strip of land known as Isla Calero.” The English-language Costa Rican news source continues:

The white and blue Nicaraguan flag, which was absent from the photos produced by the Security Ministry last week, is again waving high on the south side of the river. The Nicaraguan outpost on the south side of the Río San Juan consists of three small houses that face the river, and is occupied by several soldiers. More soldiers are also present in a small white house further east of the larger outpost. Between the houses, soldiers with binoculars monitor traffic from several wooded, makeshift watchtowers overlooking the river.

In a related story, Ortega’s red buddies in Havana may be closely monitoring the San Juan River dispute, since Cuba’s Ernesto Che Guevara Medical Team is presently operating in Nicaragua’s South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS), where the border row with Costa Rica is most intense. Officially tasked with providing medical services to leftist allies throughout the world, Havana’s health professionals also practice espionage and propagate Marxism-Leninism.

In yet another signal of the revived relationship between Communist Cuba and neo-Sandinista Nicaragua, a monument to Cuban national hero Jose Marti was unveiled in Masaya, a small city south of Managua. At the unveiling ceremony, Cuban Ambassador Eduardo Martinez Borbonet and other Cuban diplomats and “solidarity workers” were welcomed by Maoist and KGB asset Tomas Borge, the only living founder of the FSLN. In a speech, Borge extolled Marti’s life and work and his influence on generations of revolutionaries, especially fellow octogenarian Fidel Castro. “We are all Marti’s children because we have been forged as revolutionaries following Fidel Castro’s example,” Borge gushed.

Interior minister during the 1980s, the once dreaded Borge is currently Nicaragua’s ambassador to Peru. In a 2004 article, J. Michael Waller describes Borge’s interior ministry as a literal extension of the Soviet KGB, East German Stasi, and Cuban DGI:

The MINT was not an indigenous force. Rather, it was modeled after the East German Ministry for State Security (MfS). Organizing and operating such a large apparatus in a short period of time required officers and advisers from the MfS, Soviet KGB, the Cuban DGI, and other Soviet bloc internal security services. These apparatchiks not only acted as advisers, but actually staffed the MINT and ran several of its day-to-day operations.

Cuban officers aided MINT operational work, and East German personnel provided technical support. Cuban personnel operated at all levels of the Defense and Interior ministries, from the general staff to the battalion and, in some cases, to the company levels. Some foreign advisers, such as Cuban Interior Ministry Colonel Renan Montero, who ran Sandinista foreign intelligence, were given citizenship so they could function as Nicaraguans.

The new “national defense” laws that Ortega rammed through the National Assembly this past December will likely resurrect the Sandinista police state. Hundreds of Soviet, East German, and Cuban agents and “military advisers” milled about Managua during the first Sandinista regime in the 1980s. According to current estimates, there are as many as 65,000 Cuban agents in Communist Venezuela, some in important posts in the military, security, and intelligence apparatus.

>Red Terror File: Chechen warlord Umarov claims responsibility for Domodedovo airport bombing, but fingered FSB on 2010 Metro attack (?)

>ABC News reported yesterday: “A leading Chechen militant claimed responsibility for the Jan. 24 suicide bombing of Moscow’s Domodedovo airport that killed 36 people and injured scores more. Doku Umarov appears in a 16-minute video released on the internet, claiming the ‘martyr operation’ was carried out on his orders.” When will GRU asset Umarov get his story straight? Last year he blamed the Russian Federation’s Federal Security Service (FSB/KGB) for carrying out the Metro bombings.

>Africa File: Egypt’s ruling party leaders resign, VP Suleiman in talks with Muslim Brotherhood, Ayatollah Khameini lauds “Islamic revolution” in Cairo

>– Senior Member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Articulates Preference for Ahmadinejad-Style President

– 10,000 Tunisians Welcome Exiled Islamist Leader, Ghannouchi Praises “Blessed Revolution” that Ousted Dictator Ben Ali

Over the weekend, significant political developments took place in Egypt that portend strategic disaster for the USA and an existential crisis for its only reliable Middle East ally, Israel.

First, the leadership of Egypt’s ruling party, the Socialist International-affiliated National Democratic Party (NDP), resigned on Saturday. This purge was no doubt beyond the imagination of most Egyptians just a few short weeks ago, but the resignations are unlikely to mollify an opposition frustrated by President Hosni Mubarak’s determination to serve out his term until September.

The dismantling of the NDP, which descends from Gamal Nasser’s Arab Socialist Union, is one of several crises facing new Vice President Omar Suleiman. Egypt’s opposition parties, which include the banned Muslim Brotherhood, are anxious to emasculate Mubarak’s power and halt the ambitions of his son Gamal, a despised figure who was among those resigning their posts. Incidentally, Suleiman, who was formerly the country’s spy chief, professes to have no intentions of running for the presidency later this year.

The Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favors the NDP regime over an Islamic fundamentalist takeover since Mubarak has faithfully upheld the Camp David Accords since 1979, in what some Middle East analysts call a “cold peace.”

On the streets of Cairo, the Egyptian army began to reassert control around Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square on Saturday. Hundreds of soldiers moved into streets around the downtown plaza that has been the base camp of the anti-Mubarak protests since February 1. Restoring normal traffic around the square will reinforce the government’s message that Mubarak will remain in the presidency for the next seven months.

Second, Suleiman has promised to restore press freedoms and annul the emergency laws by which Mubarak has ruled Egypt since the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat in 1981. The fact that Sadat’s assassins were Islamic fundamentalists is significant today due to the role that the same political-religious group is seeking in a new transitional government.

Third, on Sunday the Egyptian vice president held an unprecedented meeting with the country’s opposition parties, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood. After the meeting, the Brotherhood, which lost all of its 88 seats in last year’s parliamentary election, remarked that the negotiations with Suleiman were well-intentioned, but not substantial with respect to forming a new government. This was the assessment of Abdel Monem Aboul Fotouh, a senior member of the Brotherhood, when he was interviewed by the Al Arabiya network.

On Monday, the Muslim Brotherhood admitted that it was reconsidering its participation in further talks with Suleiman. “We are going to reconsider, it may take one or two days for us to determine whether to continue or withdraw,” said Essam El-Erian, another senior Brotherhood official. “The regime still resists the popular appeal for the end of the regime.”

As anti-government protesters continue to occupy central Cairo, Egypt’s new cabinet met without its widely hated former interior minister, Habib al-Adly. A group including opposition organizations will study constitutional amendments that will pave the way for political reform.

In spite of his peace overtures to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s ex-spy boss and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a 2006 US diplomatic cable, view the Islamist organization as “dangerous.” Britain’s Guardian newspaper published the text of communications between Suleiman and FBI director Robert Mueller:

Soliman noted that the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] was “neither a religious organization, nor a social organization, nor a political party, but a combination of all three.” The principal danger, in Soliman’s view, was the group’s exploitation of religion to influence and mobilize the public. Soliman asserted that the MB has spawned “11 different Islamist extremist organizations,” most notably the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Gama’a Islamiya (Islamic Group).

Soliman termed the MB’s recent success [2005] in the parliamentary elections as “unfortunate,” adding his view that although the group was technically illegal, existing Egyptian laws were insufficient to keep the MB in check. [FBI] Director Mueller told the Egyptians that the Bureau was keeping an eye on the MB’s fundraising and organizational efforts in the U.S. and would keep Egypt advised of relevant information the FBI developed.

This is not the case with the Obama White House, which quietly backs the admission of the Muslim Brotherhood into a new Egyptian government. In response to Sunday’s meeting, US President Barack Hussein Obama commented: “What we can do is say the time is now for you to start making a change in your country. Mubarak has already decided he’s not going to run again.” Obama played down expectations that Egypt’s best organized opposition group would take a major role in a new government, concluding: “They are only one faction in Egypt.”

Meanwhile, as the Mubarak regime enters its final months, Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt and Iran are closing ranks. Last Friday, during prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei pontificated that the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are the result of an “Islamic awakening, which followed the great Islamic Revolution of the Iranian nation.” The Leader of the Islamic Revolution (pictured above) made reference to Egyptians’ struggle for “dignity and honor” and lamented that Mubarak’s “biggest crime” was transforming Egypt into a pawn of “US imperialism.”

On Sunday, another senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood expressed gratitude to Khamenei for his endorsement of the “Egyptian revolution.” “Many thanks for Imam Khamenei and all who support the revolution in Egypt,” crowed Kamal al-Halbavi. He made the remark in an interview with the state-funded BBC Persian. Halbavi further expressed hope that Egypt would have “a good government, like the Iranian government, and a good president like Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is very brave.” Halbavi added that he wants his country to develop in all fields “like Iran, achieving more technological and scientific advances and becoming a regional power.”

The next day, a second senior cleric in Iran, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, urged his comrades in North Africa to pursue Islamic revolution: “Today, we are witnessing that there are developments in Tunisia and Egypt which are spread to other countries as well…Enemies regard Iran as a major factor behind causing the (ongoing) movements. This is the reason that enemies have mounted pressure on our country. Enemies expected that the Islamic Republic would collapse during these years but they reached to an understanding that the Islamic establishment has been stabilized.”

On January 30, 10,000 Tunisians turned out to welcome home an Islamist leader whose return from 22 years of exile suggests that his party will emerge as a “major force” in Tunisia after its dictator, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, was ousted last month. The reception for Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Ennahda party, at Tunis airport was the biggest showing by Tunisian Islamists since 1989. Under Ben Ali’s socialist regime, thousands of Islamic radicals were jailed or exiled. “Oh great people who called for this blessed revolution, continue your revolution, preserve it and translate it into democracy, justice and equality,” Ghannouchi addressed the crowd, which chanted “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is great).

>Breaking News: Egyptian VP Suleiman in talks with banned Muslim Brotherhood, lifts 30-year-old emergency laws

>Breaking News: Top leadership of Egypt’s ruling party, including Mubarak’s son, resigns, opposition preps for transition talks

>Today’s developments.

>Africa/Middle East Files: Anti-, pro-Mubarak forces clash, Obama concedes Muslim Brotherhood’s role in “new Egypt,” Syrian branch threatens uprising

>– Yevgeny Primakov, Russia’s Foremost Arabist and Ex-Boss of KGB/SVR, Reflects on Egyptian Turmoil, Cautions “Social Revolutions Not A Thing of the Past”

– Israel Faces Strategic Disaster as USA’s Crypto-Muslim President Prepares to Hand Egypt over to Islamic Extremists

5,000 Criminals Escape in Massive Prison Breaks Last Weekend, Hamas and Hezbollah Terrorists among Escapees

– Tunisia’s Interim Interior Minister Accuses Security Services of Fomenting New Unrest to Thwart Transition to Democracy

– Jordan’s King Abdullah II Capitulates to Muslim Brotherhood and Leftists, Fires Prime Minister, Implements Reforms

– President Assad Alleges Country “Immune” to Unrest, Next Day Syrian Branch of Muslim Brotherhood Promises Civil Disobedience

– Algerian Opposition Plans More Anti-Government Rallies, Demands Ouster of National Liberation Front President Bouteflika

Pictured above: Backdropped by the Egyptian Museum, Cairo’s Tahrir Square on February 3. Note the rows of many devout Muslims praying.

Over the past 10 days, more than 300 Egyptians have been killed in fighting between anti-government protesters and security forces and also between pro- and anti-government forces. In the midst of President Hosni Mubarak’s attempts to cling to power, the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in the future of Egypt has entered the international media spotlight.

On Wednesday, thousands of supporters and opponents of Mubarak clashed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which is near the headquarters of the long-ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Mounted on horses and camels, some wielding whips, pro-Mubarak militants stormed barricades set up by oppositionists. The next day, army tanks and soldiers finally cleared away pro-government rioters and positioned themselves between the attackers and protesters seeking Mubarak’s ouster. The clash followed a call by the army for protesters to return home, prompting the latter to accuse state security of employing thugs to break up the barricades.

The new head of government promptly made an unprecedented apology for the assault by regime backers. Appointed this past weekend, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq acknowledged that the assault on the anti-Mubarak protesters was likely organized and promised to investigate who was behind it. Shafiq is a former air force commander and lately president of Egypt Air. Observing the political turmoil from Washington, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs admonished: “If any of the violence is instigated by the government, it should stop immediately.”

On Wednesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, chief architect of the new Union for the Mediterranean, urged a speedy political transition “to respond to the desire for change and renewal forcefully expressed by the population.” Sarkozy has come under criticism for appearing to support the regime of Tunisian dictator President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, toppled in mass protests last month.

Internet service was restored throughout Egypt, having been cut off for days by the government. State television reported an easing of a nationwide curfew and declared that parliament was suspended until the results of last year’s contested elections were revised.

Adding uncertainty to the political turmoil were several prison breaks that occurred over the weekend, as a result of some police officers abandoning their posts. Last Sunday, a total of 5,000 inmates escaped from a penitentiary in Faiyum Governorate, located about 130 kilometers southwest of Cairo. A top prison official holding the rank of general was killed in the incident. Among the escapees in Faiyum were members of Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, the political party/terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip.

On the same day, at the Wadi Natrun prison north of Cairo, incarcerated members of Hezbollah fled after guards abandoned their posts. In April 2010, a Cairo court sentenced 26 people, including members of the Lebanese political party/militia, in connection with a plot to carry out terrorist attacks against the Suez Canal and resorts on the Sinai Peninsula. Four were sentenced in absentia.

This week, the Muslim Brotherhood reiterated its demands for the president’s departure and the end of the Socialist International-affiliated NDP regime. On the organization’s website the Brotherhood urged Egyptians to resist pro-government militants and “stand in one trench against the ruling autocratic regime.” On Tuesday, Mubarak vowed to complete his present term, which expires in September, but promised that he would not stand for re-election. Despite opposition demands, the Egyptian dictator refuses to leave the country.

On Thursday, Kremlin-run Novosti reported that “Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood movement has unveiled its plans to scrap a peace treaty with Israel if it comes to power, a deputy leader said in the interview with NHK TV.” Speaking to the Japanese media, Rashad al-Bayoumi announced: “After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel.” Egypt was the first Arab country to officially recognize Israel and sign a peace agreement with the Israeli government in 1979.

Since January 25, the Muslim Brotherhood has participated in the mass anti-government rallies in Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities, prompting some political analysts to speculate about the Islamist organization’s role in a post-Mubarak government. The Brotherhood has in fact publicly declared its intention to join pro-Iranian opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei in a government of national unity following the next presidential election, slated for September.

This week, various news agencies diligently ferreted out the US government’s real stance regarding Egypt’s expected transition to democracy. Not surprisingly, the administration of crypto-Muslim US President Barack Hussein Obama is prepared to hand Egypt over to radical Islamic and pro-Iranian forces. According to the Israeli media, citing The New York Times, “Obama believes that the Muslim Brotherhood should participate in the political process in Egypt.” Online business magazine Globes, noting the White House’s disappointment with Mubarak’s decision to postpone his departure until September, continues:

The option to approach the Muslim Brotherhood came during a meeting of over a dozen foreign policy experts at the White House on Monday [January 31]. The meeting, led by deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Benjamin Rhodes, and two other National Security Council officials, Daniel Shapiro and Samantha Power, examined unrest in the region, and the potential for the protests to spread.

The New York Times quotes participants as saying that White House staff members said that Mr. Obama believed that Egyptian politics needed to encompass ‘non-secular’ parties: diplomatic-speak for the Muslim Brotherhood.

In keeping with Obama’s position, the US State Department has acknowledged that the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best-organized opposition party, may play a role in Egypt’s transition from autocracy if the group agrees to a peaceful, democratic process. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley denied that US officials in Cairo or Washington have spoken to Brotherhood representatives. However, he conceded that the Brotherhood is “a fact of life in Egypt.” The Brotherhood won 88 seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections, but lost every one in last year’s poll, partly provoking the current unrest.

An anonymous official at the US embassy in Egypt acknowledged that Ambassador Margaret Scobey had spoken to a “large number of people,” including former United Nations nuclear watchdog chief El Baradei. “Embassy has been in touched with a large number of people, but I don’t know all the names for sure. However, Muslim Brotherhood—no.”

Located at the intersection of the Asian and African continents, Egypt is a key ally of the USA and Israel. Until 1991 Egypt was armed principally by the Soviet Union. Since the so-called demise of communism, however, the Mubarak regime has turned to the USA for $1 billion in military aid each year. Cairo has used these funds to buy tanks, F-16 fighter jets, Patriot anti-aircraft missiles, and other weapons systems. Foreign policy analysts warn that “US military and intelligence agencies would lose vital air, land and sea assets if Egypt falls into the hands of radical Islamists, as Iran did in 1979.”

Ken Allard, a retired US Army colonel and military analyst, predicts: “Let me count the ways. They are our biggest strategic partner in the Middle East. At that point, you’ve lost your biggest Arab partner. Geostrategically, the mind boggles.” The US Navy would not be able to navigate the Egyptian-run Suez Canal, which reduces sailing time for Atlantic-based carriers groups going from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. The US Air Force would probably lose overflight rights into the Middle East, while the US Army would lose a partner in building the M1A1 tank.

“If we lose Egypt to the Brotherhood, it is absolutely devastating,” fretted former US Representative Peter Hoekstra, who led the House Select Committee on Intelligence. “The Egyptians are a key stabilizing force for us throughout the Middle East.” During a 2009 visit to Cairo, US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates stated: “Our military has benefited from the interactions with the Egyptian armed forces—one of the most professional and capable in the region. We are always looking for ways to expand these ties through education, training and exercises.”

The Obama White House has been courting the Muslim Brotherhood for some time. In January 2010, Washington lifted a ban preventing Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan from entering the USA. Ramadan, an Egyptian then living in Switzerland, is a leading member of Europe’s Muslim Brotherhood branch and the grandson of the movement’s founder Hassan al-Banna.

Russia has waded cautiously into Egypt’s political turmoil, but nevertheless directed subtle warnings toward the USA and Israel not to interfere in the country’s domestic crisis. On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized that Egypt remains Russia’s strategic partner, minimizing Mubarak’s alliance with the USA:

Egypt is our strategic partner and a key country in the Middle East region. That it why we are not indifferent to what is happening there and are interested in Egypt being a stable, prosperous and democratic state and want today’s socio-economic and political problems to be peacefully solved as soon as possible.

We do not consider it useful to produce any recipes from outside or deliver ultimatums – it is political forces in Egypt who should speak out.

On Tuesday, the aging Yevgeny Primakov, a trained Arabist who was formerly head of the Soviet KGB but currently presides over the Russian Federation Chamber of Commerce, noted the absence of overt Islamic slogans in the Egyptian protests. However, he asserted that it is erroneous to believe that social revolutions are “a thing of the past.” Primakov’s full comments were published in the Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily:

We have concentrated in our analysis quite fairly on radical Islamism, which has been gaining strength in the Muslim world, and we have somewhat overlooked “traditional” roots of social revolutionary explosions. Generally, we have erroneously assumed that revolutions, which sweep away conservative and authoritarian regimes, are a thing of the past, including in developing countries. The situation in Tunisia and Egypt show that we are wrong.

Having focused on the dangers of extremist Islamism, we have underestimated the influence of modernization, primarily on advanced Muslim states, in terms of their socio-cultural development. Spontaneity backed by chatting on the Internet and via mobile phones played a role in the revolutionary movement that shook Tunisia and then Egypt.

There were no Islamic slogans in demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia, even through the Muslim Brotherhood has rather strong positions in Egypt.

It is a sign of serious importance. But it gives no guarantee that the Islamists will not try to ride the revolutionary wave. The Muslim Brotherhood did so during the revolutionary events in Egypt in 1952-1953.

Whatever concessions it makes to faux rightist conspiracy theories, the New American exposes the role of the Communist Party of Egypt in the present revolutionary convulsions by quoting the party website:

Hundreds of patriotic and democratic forces and cadres of our Party in the Cairo district of Abidin and in other places in the capital as well as other demonstrations in Port Said and Alexandria against the inheritance of power to Gamal Mubarak, or an extension for Hosni Mubarak…

Our party has participated in the demonstration raising banners of the Communist Party Banners to fly the red in the field of Abdeen and confirm the position of the Communist Party of rejection of this system.

Elsewhere in the Arab world, the Syrian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood is threatening civil disobedience against the socialist dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad. On Tuesday, Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader, Riyadh Al Saqfa, warned the Ba’athist regime to “learn from what happened in Tunisia.” He rumbled: “If the [Syrian] reimge continues to ignore the views of the people and corruption and discrimination continues, we will incite the people to demand their rights until this reaches the point of civil disobedience.” A statement released by the organization demanded that the Ba’athist party remove Article VIII of the constitution, which enshrines single-party rule, terminate all emergency and martial laws, release all political prisoners, and ameliorate the country’s poverty.

This ultimatum from the Syrian section of the Muslim Brotherhood comes one day after Assad proudly declared in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that his country is “immune” to the unrest gripping the Arab world.

In Jordan this week, King Abdullah II capitulated to demands from the Islamic Action Front, the national branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and leftist parties to dismiss the government and implement political reforms. In Algeria, oppositionists plan a large anti-government demonstration for February 12 with the intent of ousting National Liberation Front President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and ending a state of emergency that began when the Algerian Civil War erupted 19 years ago.

In Tunisia, where the revolutionary wave began, the new interior minister accused members of the security services of instigating further unrest to block efforts to establish democracy following the ouster of Ben Ali. Farhat Rajhi also announced the detention of his predecessor, Rafik Belhaj Kacem, who led the crackdown in December and January against protesters seeking to end Ben Ali’s 23-year rule.

>Africa File: Mubarak reportedly flees Cairo as radical Islamic, pro-Iranian forces poised to take control of Egypt, emperil Israel’s national security

>– Mubarak Clings to Power, Appoints Loyalists to Posts of Vice President, Prime Minister, Reportedly Retreats to Red Sea Resort

– Tanks Surround Anti-Government Protesters in Cairo, F-16 Fighter Jets Swoop in Low over Tahrir Square

– Protesters Storm Interior Ministry Building on Saturday Night, Army Negotiates Escape for Hated National Police

– Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed El Baradei Propose National Unity Government, US Jewish Leader Calls Ex-Director of IAEA “Stooge of Iran”

– Anti-Government Protesters Vow One Million-Person Turnout on February 1, Army Promises No Shooting (source)

The Suez Canal should be closed immediately. The flow of gas from Egypt to Israel should cease in order to bring about the downfall of the Mubarak regime. The people should be prepared for war against Israel.
— Muhammad Ghannem, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, quoted by Iran’s Al-Alam, January 31, 2011

After a week of violent protests throughout Egypt, spurred on by the successful “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia, which toppled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Islamic and pro-Iranian forces are poised to take over the Egyptian state from long-time socialist dictator Hosni Mubarak. Anti-government forces have called for an “indefinite strike” until Mubarak resigns. According to the British media, Mubarak has retreated to the Red Sea resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh for safety, fearing the turmoil created by anti-government mobs occupying Tahrir Square in Cairo for the past week.

Over the weekend, Mubarak shored up his ebbing power by appointing two loyalists to the government, which he sacked on Saturday. Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s spy master since 1993, was tapped for the post of vice president, while Ahmed Shafiq, former air force commander and currently president of Egypt Air, was dropped into the post of prime minister. “He’s got a back of steel,” remarked Edward S. Walker, former US ambassador to Egypt and Israel, referring to the 75-year-old Soviet-educated Suleiman. He added: “He’s got some moderation but he’s not a liberal. He’s not a democrat.”

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood is eyeing a national unity government with Mohammed El Baradei, former United Nations nuclear watchdog chief. On Saturday, the Brotherhood called on Mubarak to relinquish power in a peaceful manner following the resignation of the Egyptian cabinet. The Islamist group is also demanding an end to 30-year-old emergency laws, which in the wake of President Anwar Sadat’s assassination by Islamic fundamentalists in the army, have been used often to arrest and harass dissidents.

Speaking to CNN on Sunday, El Baradei stated that he had a “popular and political mandate” to negotiate the formation of a unity government. El Baradei declared: “I have been authorized — mandated — by the people who organized these demonstrations and many other parties to agree on a national unity government.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has accused El Baradei of covering up Iran’s true nuclear weaponization capacities while he directed the International Atomic Energy Agency. “He is a stooge of Iran, and I don’t use the term lightly,” Hoenlein asserted in an online recorded interview with Yeshiva World News. “He fronted for them, he distorted the reports.”

In a related story, on Sunday, a number of Hamas operatives, including the group’s commander for Khan Younis, escaped from a jail in Egypt and were believed to be making their way back to the Gaza Strip. Along the same theme, Egyptian troops have arrested two armed members of Hamas who entered the country illegally from Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood and the virulently anti-Israeli, pro-Iranian Hamas are closely allied.

In the streets, tens of thousands of Egyptians are resolved to oppose the Mubarak regime unto death. On Sunday, the army, which is an otherwise respected institution, deployed tanks to create a cordon around Tahrir Square, where much of the protesting has taken place, and even built a meter-high barricade around the state television building. The air force dispatched US-built F-16 fighter jets to scream low over the square in order to intimidate oppositionists, but they stood their ground. “You must tell the world that the army forces try to make all the people scared,” mechanic Abo Farah, 48, shouted. “But we are not afraid. We are brave. We will defend our cause [even] after we die. Mubarak must go.”

Elsewhere in Egypt’s capital, on Saturday night protesters attacked the Interior Ministry with Molotov cocktails. The country’s much-hated police force responded with roof-top sniper fire, killing 13 civilians. The next morning, the army negotiated “safe passage” for the police, who fled the building in black vans, guns blazing.

The Israeli government is anxiously watching events in Egypt. The Mubarak regime has upheld the Camp David Accords for nearly 30 years in what some Middle East analysts call a “cold peace” between the two countries. A pro-Iranian national unity government consisting of El Baradei’s forces and the Muslim Brotherhood could endanger Israel’s national security along its southwest border. On February 1, the Jerusalem Post reported: “A leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt told the Arabic-language Iranian news network Al-Alam on Monday that he would like to see the Egyptian people prepare for war against Israel . . .”

“The Egyptians are cracking down on Hamas,” related a senior Israeli defense official said on Sunday. Israeli authorities who contacted the Egyptian government on Sunday “expressed confidence” in former spy master Suleiman’s ability to take control of the military and prevent a regime change. “This is the end of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency, but the situation could be brought under control by Suleiman,” said the anonymous official mentioned above.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke by telephone on Sunday to discuss the political turmoil in Egypt.

>Middle East File: Islamic Action Front, trade unions, leftists lead anti-government protests in Amman, demand Jordanian PM resign

>Political unrest in the Arab world has spread from North Africa to Jordan which, like Egypt, has a peace treaty with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood is not only leading anti-government protests in Egypt, but also in Jordan, where the national chapter is called the Islamic Action Front. Yesterday, Al Jazeera reported on protests taking place in the capital Amman:

Thousands of people in Jordan have taken to the streets in protests, demanding the country’s prime minister step down, and the government curb rising prices, inflation and unemployment. In the third consecutive Friday of protests, about 3,500 opposition activists from Jordan’s main Islamist opposition group, trade unions and leftist organisations gathered in the capital, waving colourful banners reading: “Send the corrupt guys to court”.

The crowd denounced Samir Rifai’s, the prime minister, and his unpopular policies. Many shouted: “Rifai go away, prices are on fire and so are the Jordanians.”

Another 2,500 people also took to the streets in six other cities across the country after the noon prayers. Those protests also called for Rifai’s ouster.

King Abdullah has promised some reforms, particularly with respect to election laws. However, many Jordanians believe he will not cave in to demands for the election by parliament of the prime minister and his cabinet officials. These are traditionally appointed by the king.

>Africa File: Egyptian dictator Mubarak orders government ministers to resign, but backs armed response to oppositionists after 5th day of protest

>– Gaza-Egypt Border Unpatrolled, Hamas Infiltrating Egypt, Collaborating with Muslim Brotherhood in Anti-Mubarak Protests (source)

– Protesters Briefly Occupy Egyptian Embassy in Caracas, Egyptian-Venezuelans Express Solidarity with Anti-Mubarak Forces (source)

– Egyptian Government Blocks Internet, Text Messaging, Data Planning Services in Parts of Country

– Mubarak Sends Goon Squads into Streets of Cairo, Baseball Bat-Wielding Plain-Clothes “Baltageya” Employed by State Security

– Egyptian Communists Endorse Removal of Mubarak Regime at Party Website, Applaud Ben Ali’s Ouster in Tunisia

– US University Professor Warns of Danger of Islamic Fundamentalists or Communists Taking Over Egypt, Nullifying Peace Treaty with Israel

On Saturday, January 29, Egypt’s political opposition continued its street protests against the dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak for the fifth straight day. The government has imposed a curfew upon the population, which the otherwise respected institution of the Egyptian army has threatened to enforce. Thus far, most confrontations with anti-government protesters have taken place with the police, who do not enjoy the military’s prestige.

After four days of pitched street battles, Mubarak budged, if only slightly, sacking his government ministers. The New York Times reports that Mubarak “appeared on television early Saturday morning and ordered his government to resign, but backed his security forces’ attempts to contain the surging unrest around the country that has shaken his three-decade-long authoritarian rule.” Significantly, “He did not offer to step down himself and spent much of his speech explaining the need for stability, saying that while he was ‘on the side of freedom,’ his job was to protect the nation from chaos.”

Friday’s demonstrations began with tens of thousands of oppositionists taking to the streets of Cairo (pictured above) and the historic port city of Alexandria. The anti-government protests in Egypt ride on the crest of political unrest throughout the Arab world, beginning in Tunisia, where President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted one week ago, and spreading to Algeria, Jordan, and Yemen.

Spearheading the anti-Mubarak movement is Mohamed El Baradei, a presidential aspirant and former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency. El Baradei returned to Egypt on Thursday, ending his exile in Austria. He joined the street protests in Cairo, but shortly thereafter sought refuge in a mosque after police attacked him with water cannon. Incidentally, under El Baradei’s watch, the IAEA gave Iran’s nuclear program a pass mark with respect to apparently having no ambitions to build atomic warheads.

After an initial reticence, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and best organized opposition force in Egypt, has also sent its cadres into the streets to agitate for regime change. At least five senior leaders and five former members of parliament were arrested in raids.

“Two, three days ago I didn’t think the Brotherhood would join the protests because they thought it would be business as usual,” comments Josh Stacher, a political scientist at Kent State University who specializes in modern Egypt studies. “But I think the Brothers realize it’s on now. They sense they’ve got a legit chance of chasing Mubarak out of the country.”

In addition to water cannon trucks, security forces, which are stationed along Cairo’s main avenues, are armed with tear gas and rubber bullets. At least five protesters have been killed since Tuesday and the government admits 800 people have been detained. Human rights groups report there have been more than 2,000 arrests.

In an attempt to thwart opposition strategizing, the Egyptian government ordered telecommunications company Vodafone to suspend service in parts of the country, blocking Internet, text messaging, and data planning services. It has also deployed goon squads throughout the capital.

On his Twitter feed, CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman reported that the government has sent “waves” of baltageya, plain-clothes thugs employed by state security, into the streets to intimidate protesters. Wedeman witnessed a car load of baseball bats arriving on the grounds of the government TV building. Incidentally, some people like Wedeman still have Internet access via cellphones registered in foreign countries.

In Washington, US President Barack Obama straddled the fence by noting that political reforms were “absolutely critical” to Egypt’s “long-term well-being,” while acknowledging Mubarak is a “critical U.S. ally” in the Arab world. The Christian Science Monitor opines: “Egyptians pushing for regime change and democracy in Egypt have won this round, simply by making good on their promise of the largest protest against the government since three days of bread riots in 1977.”

The website of the Communist Party of Egypt is outspoken in its endorsement of the street protests against Mubarak, as well as the ousting of Ben Ali in Tunisia. Wave Nunnally, professor of Biblical studies at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri was quoted by the local News-Leader as warning: “Should Islamic fundamentalists or Communists take over they would probably declare the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel null and void, which would inject more instability into the region.”

In spite of some party name changes, the same regime has essentially held sway in Egypt since 1952, when military officer Gamal Abdel Nasser and his cohorts in the Free Officers’ Movement overthrew King Farouk I. In 1949, Nasser organized the founding committee of the Free Officers, which consisted of 14 men from different political backgrounds, including Young Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Communist Party of Egypt, as well as the aristocracy. Nasser aligned his country with the Soviet Union.

>Red Terror File: Medvedev sacks transport top cop as “FSB trace” lurks behind Moscow airport bombing, suspect emerges but no claims of responsibility

>– Chechen Rebel Leader Umarov Blamed FSB for Organizing 2010 Moscow Metro Suicide Bombing

– They Just Don’t Get It File: NORAD/US NORTHCOM Commander Overlooks Kremlin’s Plausible Deniability “Card” in Domodedovo Attack

Following the deadly bombing at Russia’s busiest airport this past Monday, President Dmitry Medvedev has fired Major General Andrei Alexeyev, a top official of the country’s transport police. Ahead of next year’s presidential election, Medvedev, who is widely perceived as Vladimir Putin’s “lap dog,” appears anxious to assert that he is “in control” after suicide bombers killed 35 people at Domodedovo International Airport.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Putin, with his characteristic “tough guy” swagger, vowed retribution for the attack, but specified no targets.

The Kremlin-controlled Russian news media, generally citing unnamed sources, have portrayed the bombing as conducted by a man and a woman, and that the bomb was either strapped to one of them or in a suitcase. At least one accomplice drove the “Black Widow” and her male colleague to the airport. According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, quoting witnesses interviewed by Russian TV news, the male bomber, just before the device detonated, shouted: “I’ll kill you all!”

Witness Artyom Zhilinkov related to Pravda: “He blew himself up in front of my very eyes. It was a man, he was wearing a black coat and a black hat – that’s all I can remember. He literally blew up into pieces.” The explosion sprayed the airport’s baggage claim area with shrapnel, screws, and ball bearings, and dismembered innocent travellers. Zhilinkov survived the tremendous blast because he hid behind a column.

In addition to the dead, more than 170 people were injured. Eight foreigners were killed, including two Austrians, two Tajiks, and one each from Britain, Germany, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. The bombing has demoralized many Russians, weary of 16 years of separatist violence in the Northern Caucasus region, including last year’s double suicide-bombing of the Moscow subway system, in which 40 people were killed.

Tellingly, at least for those seeking an “FSB trace” behind the latest atrocity in Russia, no claim of responsibility for the bombing has been made. In our first post on this subject, we reported that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB/KGB) was aware that a terrorist attack might take place at Domodedovo but, apparently, did nothing to improve security at the airport. This is suspicious in itself.

Some reports have suggested that the suicide bombers were Islamic guerrillas from Chechnya or Dagestan, such as the Nogai Brigade, an insurgent group in the Stavropol region of southern Russia. The Nogai Brigade allegedly operates under the operational umbrella of the Imarat Kavkaz, or Caucasus Emirate. Imarat Kavkaz was formed in 2007 with the objective of implementing Islamic law in the North Caucasus.

The latest wave of terrorism in Russia began in February 2010, when Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov announced that Russian cities would be included in his organization’s “zone of military operations.” Umarov claimed responsibility for the March 29, 2010 Metro suicide bombing in Moscow. The Georgian media, however, quoted Umarov as blaming the FSB itself for the Metro attack:

An audio address of head of the Caucasus Emirate of Doku Umarov appeared in the Internet, in which he states that the explosions in the Moscow metro were organized by the FSB. “The Chechens would not have done that. They have done everything as though Russian security services had nothing to do with this, but in reality they are guilty. The FSB is to be blamed for the explosions in Moscow,” – said Umarov. According to official figures, 39 people were killed during the explosion in the Moscow metro.

A previous attack on the Moscow Metro took place in 2004.

With respect to the latest terrorist attack in Moscow, Vitaly Razdobudko, 32, has emerged as the chief suspect (pictured above). Investigators allege Razdobudko has been missing from his apartment in the southern resort town of Pyatigorsk in the Stavropol region since last November, along with his wife and a newborn baby. Police reportedly zeroed in on Vitaly Razdobudko after connecting him to the Nogai Brigade and a December 31, 2010 bomb blast at a home in Moscow. In that incident, a would-be Black Widow accidentally blew herself up.

Razdobudko converted from Christianity (presumably Russian Orthodoxy) and adopted Islam when he was a student in the local technical university. He was formally converted by a local imam in Pyatigorsk, a Russian named Anton Stepanenko. Stepanenko, whose Muslim name is Abdullah, was convicted of holding a man hostage in 2006. At the time, police found Wahhabist literature, audio and video materials, as well as a manual on explosives, in Stepanenko’s home.

In the light of Umarov’s self-defense, we can only speculate that Stepanenko may be an “arm’s length” asset for recruiting and brainwashing Islamic terrorists on behalf of the FSB.

According to state-run Novosti, Razdobudko was not the man seen at Domodedovo. A video camera “clearly shows that it is a different person,” a police source told the agency. Instead, he is suspected of being a possible organizer of the January 24 suicide attack.

US terrorism experts and authorities were quick to offer a synopsis of the Moscow airport tragedy. Juan Zarate, deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, commented: “In the last five years, the Russians believed they had pacified the problem. But the attack on the subway last year and this attack [on January 24, 2011] underscore there are festering issues and conflicts still unresolved.”

Ironically, especially for those of us who suspect Domodedovo was another case of plausible deniability for the Kremlin ahead of a Spetsnaz-led WMD attack on US soil, NORAD/US NORTHCOM commander Admiral James Winnefeld made the following observation about US-Russian relations:

People think of us and the Russians as adversaries, and we’re not, and particularly in this area. We feel very badly for what happened to them in Moscow because that could have just as easily happened here. Military-to-military relations between the U.S. and Russia are improving. I would welcome the opportunity, candidly, and I would also welcome the opportunity to host a Russian counterpart here.

Winnefeld’s strategically naïve worldview proves that the Soviet communists may have lost the Cold War economically, but they won it ideologically. US Northern Command and the joint US-Canadian military command known as the North American Aerospace Defence Command are both headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

>Africa File: Egypt’s socialist dictatorship uses 1981 emergency law to suppress Tunisian-inspired protests, riot police disperse opposition in Cairo

>– Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s Largest Opposition Group, Promises “Strong Presence” in Protests Slated for January 28

– Tunisia’s Interim Government Issues Arrest Warrant for Deposed President Ben Ali, Releases Political Prisoners

– Tunisian General Workers’ Union Announces General Strike with Intent of Toppling Interim Government

Political unrest continues to sweep across North Africa, challenging long-ruling socialist dictatorships.

In Egypt, unprecedented protests against President Hosni Mubarak have entered their third day as regime opponents converge in central Cairo, awaiting the arrival in country of main opposition figure, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed El Baradei. Protesters are demanding that the long-ruling National Democratic Party, which descends from Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab Socialist Union, dissolve itself. Mubarak became president after Anwar Sadat, who signed Egypt’s current peace accord with Israel, was assassinated by Islamic fundamentalists in the army.

Clashes between oppositionists and security forces were also reported in the eastern Egyptian city of Ismaliya.

On Wednesday morning, an Egyptian opposition group called for a second day of protests in Cairo, just hours after police fired tear gas and beat anti-government protesters to clear a central square in the city. The 6th of April Youth Movement used its Facebook page to urge oppositionists to continue their defiance of President Mubarak’s 30-year-old regime.

The day before, rock-throwing demonstrators occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square for hours, resisting attempts to dislodge them by police wielding tear gas and water cannons. The demonstrations began peacefully, with police at first showing restraint. Several witnesses, however, allege the clashes began after protesters attempted to seize a water cannon truck. After Tuesday’s protest, which was illegal under a 1981 emergency law, Egypt’s Interior Ministry promptly re-banned all new demonstrations.

Several thousand Egyptians demonstrated in the historic port city of Alexandria. There were also large protests in Mansoura and Mahalla al-Kobra. Three protesters and a police officer were killed in Tuesday’s unrest. The latter was inspired by Tunisia’s so-called Jasmine Revolution, which led to the ouster one week ago of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Since Ben Ali’s departure from Tunisia, at least five Egyptians have attempted suicide by self-immolation, imitating the young Tunisian whose burning death in December rallied protesters there. Similar protest marches and self-immolations have occurred in defiance of Algeria’s long-ruling National Liberation Front regime, prompting a swift police crackdown in Algiers.

Egypt’s opposition groups, including the Kifaya movement, used Facebook and Twitter to organize the protests. However, on Tuesday Twitter’s owners stated their social networking website had been blocked in Egypt, presumably by government authorities. Legal parties such as the liberal Wafd and the banned Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and best organized opposition group, did not officially endorse the demonstrations, but a number of their members participated. The Muslim Brotherhood, however, has promised a “strong presence” in demonstrations slated for January 28.

Meanwhile, Tunisia’s interim government, which is still dominated by former members of the long-ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally, have issued an arrest warrant for Ben Ali and his family. The Ben Ali clan is charged with theft and currency offenses. Interpol has been asked to help arrest the deposed president, his wife Leila Trabelsi, and other family members who have fled the country. According to interim Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi, Ben Ali, who is reportedly in Saudi Arabia, “amassed vast riches” during his 23 years in power, while his family controlled many of Tunisia’s most influential companies.

Chebbi also noted that six members of the presidential guard will be tried for inciting violence after Ben Ali’s departure. He indicated that 2,460 prisoners had been released since last week, but would not reveal how many were jailed for alleged political crimes. Immediately after Ben Ali’s flight from Tunisia, the prime minister promised to release all political prisoners.

The Tunisian General Workers’ Union, a prime mover in the anti-government protests, announced a general strike on Wednesday in Sfax, Tunisia’s second city and economic center.

>EU File: Violent demos rock Tirana, police kill three protesters, Albania’s “ex”-communist PM accuses “ex”-communist party of staging “coup d’etat”

>Blogger’s Note: Albania is not a member of the European Union. However, we have placed this news item in our “EU File” category since many former communist states have relations with the EU.

This past Friday, Albania’s opposition Socialist Party, once the ruling Marxist-Leninist party, participated in a violent protest against the government, which is led by the ostensibly center-right Democratic Party. Police shot dead three protesters, while a fourth remains in a critical condition.

Albania’s parliament has voted to establish a special commission to investigate the deadly demonstration. In an extraordinary parliamentary session, Prime Minister Sali Berisha accused opposition leaders, who are “former” communists like himself, of attempting to seize power in a failed coup attempt.

“This inquiry commission will examine all the evidence to reveal the truth about the coup d’etat staged January 21 with the aim of overthrowing the constitutional order,” intoned parliament speaker Jozefina Topalli. The commission will have a three-month-mandate to investigate the clashes, which took place when tens of thousands of people demonstrated outside government headquarters in downtown Tirana (pictured above).

Albania has been in a political standoff since its last elections in July 2009. The Socialist Party refuses to recognize the results, blocking legislation and reforms in parliament. Despite pleas for peace from international representatives, Berisha has summoned Democratic Party supporters to meet in Tirana next Saturday for an “anti-violence rally.” Socialist leader and Tirana mayor Edi Rama also called for new protests after attending the burials of two of the victims on Sunday.

Albania is a “former” communist state that once hosted a Soviet submarine base on the Adriatic Sea. Prior to communist partisans seizing power at the end of the Second World War, the country was under the domination of Fascist Italy, which invaded in 1939. Albanians are the dominant ethnic group in Kosovo, the neighboring Serbian province that many countries worldwide (except Serbia and Russia) recognize as an independent state. The Albanian government, fearing Serbia as a potential enemy, joined NATO in 2009.

>Africa/Middle East Files: Protests, riots inspired by Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” erupt in Algeria, Yemen, Egypt, demand removal of dictators

>– Tunisia’s Main Trade Union “Instrumental” in Downfall of Ben Ali Regime, Organizes “Caravan of Liberation” March to Oust Interim Government

– Self-Immolations Spread to Algeria in Defiance of 50-Year Rule of National Liberation Front

– Yemeni President Denies Authoritarian Nature of Regime, Contends with Marxist Separatists in South, Six Soldiers Killed in Ambush

This past Friday, relatives of Tunisia’s ousted president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, arrived in Canada, an official of Ottawa’s Citizenship and Immigration Department told Agence France-Presse and Postmedia News in an email. However, Canadian official Douglas Kellam made it clear that the Ben Ali clan is persona non grata: “Mr. Ben Ali, deposed members of the former Tunisian regime and their immediate families are not welcome in Canada.”

One of Ben Ali’s many brothers-in-law arrived in Montreal aboard a private jet accompanied by his wife, their children, and a governess, Kellam related. Ben Ali’s wife, Leila Trabelsi, has several brothers, but it was unclear which one had arrived in Canada. Members of Ben Ali’s family reportedly checked into a hotel in Montreal.

The deposed president’s daughter, Nesrine Ben Ali, and her husband, businessman Sakher El Materi, purchased a US$2.5-million home in the upscale, English-speaking Montreal neighborhood of Westmount two years ago. The stately house is currently uninhabited and partly under construction. Tunisia’s central bank seized El Materi’s own bank last week.

Ben Ali himself has sought refuge in another authoritarian regime, Saudi Arabia, where Christians and Jews can be executed for spreading their beliefs, even though Western countries have welcomed hate-spewing Islamic radicals and terrorists with open arms.

On Saturday, hundreds of mutinous police officers joined thousands of protesters in Tunis in a rally against interim Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. They called on the new government to quit because of the presence of old regime figures in key posts, including Ghannouchi, as well as the defense, interior, and foreign ministers. Pictured above: More anti-government protests in Tunis on January 24.

At the same time, a protest march backed by the Tunisian General Workers’ Union, which has played an instrumental role in the recent upheaval, departed central Tunisia for the capital in a bid to topple the interim government. Participants dubbed their protest a “Caravan of Liberation” and spent their first night in Regueb, a town 265 kilometers south of Tunis, and claimed their march would gather momentum as it moved toward the capital.

Meanwhile, protests and riots inspired by Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” have spread to other Arab countries with authoritarian regimes, such as Algeria, Yemen, and Egypt.

In Algiers, police, armed with batons and tear gas, clashed with 300 pro-democracy protesters on Saturday, leaving multiple casualties, as they blocked a march on parliament. The opposition said at least 42 people were injured during the six-hour standoff, including two seriously. The Interior Ministry insisted that the number of injured was only 19, including 11 protestors or passers-by, and eight police.

Said Sadi, head of the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy, admitted the protest was organized in defiance of a government ban. The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights warned that “the blanket government ban on peaceful protest could cause social upheaval” in the North African country. “The fact of banning peaceful marches undertaken by the parties and civil society is leading us towards an explosion,” ALDHR president Mostefa Bouchachi told the AFP news agency.

Also on Saturday, Karim Bendine, 35, died in a hospital in Douera, a suburb of Algiers, where he was admitted earlier last week with most of his body covered in third-degree burns. Bendine had set himself alight near the town hall of Dellys, near the capital, for unknown reasons. Seven other Algerians have immolated themselves since January 12, apparently inspired by the self-immolation in Tunisia of 26-year-old Mohammed Bouazizi, whose protest suicide against unemployment unleashed a wave of violent protests that ended in the ouster of strongman Ben Ali. Another protest self-immolation took place in Boukhadra on Monday.

The pro-Soviet socialist National Liberation Front (FLN) has effectively ruled Algeria since 1962, although its dominance was challenged in 1991, when the Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of an election that was later cancelled by the ruling authorities. This led to the Algerian Civil War and finally the defeat of the Islamic Salvation Army and the Armed Islamic Group. FLN cadre Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been president of Algeria since 1999.

Elsewhere in the Arab world, hundreds of Yemeni students held protests at Sanaa University, with some demanding that the president to resign. Since the Tunisian uprising, Yemenis have frequently called for an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s decades-long rule, which extends back to his stint as president of North Yemen in the 1980s. “No to inheritance, no to extension, learn from the Jasmine Revolution,” read a banner carried by the students.

The long-ruling pro-Soviet Saleh was re-elected in September 2006 for a seven-year mandate. A draft amendment of the constitution, under consideration in the parliament dominated by Saleh’s General People’s Congress, could further extend his tenure by allowing a lifelong mandate. In a recent televised rant, Saleh lashed out at his critics, who have accused him of planning to transfer power to his son: “Talking about hereditary rule is an impudent symphony, we are a republican and democratic system and we are against hereditary rule. We are against hereditary rule of villages, of tribes, of power, of unity, of ministries, we are against hereditary rule.”

Last year, Saleh, with Saudi military intervention, put down an Iranian-backed Shia Muslim insurgency in northern Yemen. However, he still faces a violent upheaval in the southern part of the country where the Yemeni Socialist Party, which once ruled South Yemen, is demanding the restoration of the People’s Democratic Republic. In fact, on January 8, Marxist separatists attacked a checkpoint in the town of Radfan in Lahj province, killing six soldiers and wounding four others. Lahj is a key stronghold of the Southern Movement. Faysal Jubran, who has led the movement since March 2007, told Xinhua that the clash left one of his followers wounded.

In Egypt, oppositionists called for a “national day of action” to take place on January 25 by all groups seeking to end the 29-year regime of President Hosni Mubarak, who succeeded Anwar Sadat after the latter’s 1981 assassination by Islamic fundamentalists. “If the Tunisians have done it, Egyptians should get there too,” Mohamed El Baradei, a leading Egyptian opposition figure and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told German news magazine Der Spiegel.

Last summer, police dragged Khaled Said, a small businessman in the historic city of Alexandria, from an Internet café and beat him to death in the street. Although Said was not politically active, the unprovoked police attack was in obvious retaliation for Said’s decision to post a video on his blog of crooked cops pocketing the contents of a drug bust. Shortly after the murder, an anonymous administrator created a Facebook page under the name “We Are All Khaled Said.” As of January 21, 2011, nearly 69,000 people visited the Facebook page to sign up for the January 25 protest.

Egypt’s traditional opposition groups have joined the call for protest on Tuesday. El Baradei stopped just short of backing the demonstration. On Thursday night, he finally offered tacit support, if only via Twitter: “Fully support call 4 peaceful demonstrations vs. repression.”

>Red Terror File: Suicide bomber kills 35 in baggage claim area of Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, worst attack since March 2010 Metro bombings

>An explosion ripped through the baggage claim area in Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow today, killing 35 people, including foreign travellers. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB/KGB) acknowledged that last week it had received warnings that a terrorist attack might take place at the airport. President Dmitry Medvedev postponed his planned departure for this week’s World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, and has convened an emergency meeting of security officials.

Moscow suffered its worst terrorist attack in six years in March 2010 when two female suicide bombers from Russia’s Dagestan region set off explosives in the Metro, killing 40 people.

>Africa File: Revolution in Tunisia: Protests continue as ruling socialist party collapses after 54 years in power, PM, interim president abandon RCD

>– Constitutional Democratic Rally’s Central Committee Dissolved, Party Loyalists Still Control Oppressive Interior Ministry

– Arab League Economic Summit Convenes in Egypt, Soberly Assesses Ben Ali’s Downfall, Prospects for Other Arab Regimes

Pictured above: A woman places a kiss on an army tank on Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis, on January 21, 2011.

Today, Tunisia’s civil servants staged a revolt against the new caretaker government, refusing to work until ministers associated with the party of ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali step down. Staff uprisings have taken place at the state television, two state-run newspapers, and at private firms controlled by the ex-president’s family. Filmmakers held an extraordinary meeting to depose the party-approved head of their union.

Yesterday, Tunisian police fired shots into the air to try to disperse thousands of protesters who gathered outside the Tunis headquarters of the Socialist International-affiliated Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), but they would not be cowed. Ben Ali fled the country last Friday, reportedly seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia. “We are demanding the departure of the RCD because the RCD is not a party. It’s an intelligence service. It’s an armed militia,” said Hafeh Mesrati, a physics professor.

Apart from Habib Bourguiba, Ben Ali was Tunisia’s only post-colonial president. Former President of the Chamber of Deputies Fouad Mebazaa, who left the party on January 18, currently holds this post in an interim capacity.

Demonstrators on Mohamed V Avenue, near the center of the national capital, chanted: “After Ben Ali and his wife, we want to bring down his thieves!” They burned the party logo and waved banners declaring: “Government out!” One of the demonstrators, who gave his name as Aymen, said: “We are here. We are not going to move until the RCD falls. We will come every hour and every day.”

In Sidi Bouzid, the central Tunisian town where the revolt against Ben Ali erupted last week, residents demanded more change. It was here that a vegetable seller immolated himself after being accosted by police. “We want the dissolution of this party. This is the solution, and we want to hold its members responsible for their corruption,” Lazhar Gharbi, a teacher and trade unionist told Reuters. As we previously blogged, Tunisia’s trade unions have been at the forefront of the revolution that toppled Ben Ali.

State TV reported that the RCD’s central committee has been dissolved, although the party will continue to operate legally. The RCD has been in power under several names since 1957, when France granted Tunisia independence. The prime minister and caretaker president abandoned the RCD earlier this week, followed by still more government ministers in a bid to restore the party’s credibility after four opposition ministers jumped ship.

In another blow to the government, a junior minister resigned on Thursday. “I am stepping down for the higher interests of the country in this delicate situation to try to bring the country out of crisis and ensure a democratic transition,” announced Zouheir M’Dhaffar, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, to the official TAP news agency.

There were protests in other towns across this North African country. In an interview with Reuters, union activist Hedi Radaoui stated that between 3,000 and 4,000 people gathered in Gafsa, 350 kilometers south of Tunis, to protest the presence of the RCD in the interim government. State TV reported there were also anti-government demonstrations in the towns of Kef and Sfax.

On Wednesday, 33 members of the ousted dictator’s clan were arrested for “crimes against the nation.” In a further move to emasculate Ben Ali’s power base, Tunisia’s central bank assumed control over another bank owned by the former president’s son-in-law, Mohamed Sakher El Materi. The Swiss government also froze Ben Ali’s family assets in that country. Although Tunisians, including expatriates, are jubilant over the fall of Ben Ali and the collapse of the ruling party, Dan Murphy, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, cautions:

For now the most powerful positions in government are still held by men who loyally served the RCD and whose positions were preserved by the use of torture and intimidation by the state security apparatus, largely run out of the Interior Ministry. The business of unwinding the party’s control of government, weeding out the most corrupt of the judges and policemen, and delivering on [interim President] Mebazaa’s promise will be a long and difficult one.

The revolution in Tunisia does not bode well for the Arab world’s many other entrenched dictators and, indeed, has cast a long shadow over the Arab League summit, now underway in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik. In his opening comments to delegates, Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League and Egypt’s former foreign minister, soberly observed: “The Tunisian revolution is not far from us. The Arab citizens entered an unprecedented state of anger and frustration.”

This is the Arab League’s second economic summit since 2009, when member states agreed “to set aside political differences to address the social and economic problems plaguing their societies.” Taking stock of the fact that high unemployment, not to mention years of political oppression, led to Ben Ali’s downfall, Arab League delegates resolved to throw US$2 billion at job creation programs throughout the region.

Pro-Soviet leftist military officers, like Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein (Egypt, 1952), Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (Libya, 1969), and Gaafar Muhammad an-Nimeiry (Sudan, 1969) seized power in several Arab countries after de-colonization, sometimes overthrowing a monarchy installed by the departing European power. In most cases, they later formed mass-based parties that attempted to institutionalize their revolutions.

By contrast, Bourguiba, “the father of modern Tunisia,” and his New Constitutional Party were not initially socialist but, rather, turned in this direction in 1964 to facilitate economic development. Nor was Bourguiba particularly pro-Soviet but, instead, adoped an independent stance with respect to the Soviets and other Arab regimes.

>WW4 File: Red China deploys unknown number of troops, 50 tanks, APCs at NK port on Dec. 15, 1st such presence since PLA left Panmunjom in 1994

>– North Korean Soldiers Cross Frozen Yalu River to Pursue Refugees, Kill Five, Wound Two; Kim Jong-un Issues Shoot-to-Kill Orders

On January 17, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that about four weeks ago troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) arrived in North Korea’s special economic zone of Rajin-Sonbong. This is the first time since December 1994, when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) withdrew from the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission in the truce village of Panmunjom, that Beijing has stationed forces in the North. How many PLA troops are in North Korea is unknown.

“The move is unusual,” remarks the South Korean news source, “since North Korea is constantly calling for U.S. forces to pull out of South Korea and stressing its ‘juche’ or self-reliance doctrine.”

A source based in Red China who is familiar with North Korean affairs related: “In the middle of the night around Dec. 15 last year, about 50 Chinese armored vehicles and tanks crossed the Duman (Tumen) River from Sanhe into the North Korean city of Hoeryong in North Hamgyong Province.” This incursion would have taken place about three weeks after communist troops shelled South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island, killing two marines and two civilians.

Residents of Hoeryong, which is only about 50 kilometers from Rajin-Sonbong, woke up to the roar of armored vehicles. Other witnesses asserted that they saw military jeeps moving from the Chinese city of Dandong in the direction of Sinuiju in the North at around the same time. “The Chinese armored vehicles could be used to suppress public disturbances and the jeeps to round up on defectors from the North,” the source mentioned above speculated.

“Pyongyang and Beijing have reportedly discussed the matter of stationing a small number of Chinese troops in the Rajin-Sonbong region to guard port facilities China has invested in,” explained an official at Cheong Wa Dae, the official residence of the South Korean president. “If it’s true, they’re apparently there to protect either facilities or Chinese residents rather than for political or military reasons.”

Nam Joo-hong, South Korea’s ambassador for international security, predicted: “What China is most worried about in case of a sudden change in the North is mass influx of defectors, which would throw the three northeastern Chinese provinces into confusion. With its military presence in Rajin-Sonbong, there is a likelihood that China could intervene in Korean affairs by sending a large number of troops into the North under the pretext of protecting its residents there in an emergency.”

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Red China have “engaged in lively military exchanges” since two visits to the PRC by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2010. Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of the Chinese Central Military Commission, reciprocated by visiting the North last October. At the time, Guo met with leader Kim Jong-il and his son and heir Jong-un. In the meeting, the elder Kim emphasized “blood ties” between the two communist states.

It is known that the PRC established a commercial mission in Rajin-Sonbong last month and that, furthermore, Red China is transporting natural resources from its northeastern region to the south via the Port of Rajin-Sonbong, which was recently renovated. According to the Xinhua news agency, Red China first used the port on December 7, when it transported 20,000 tons of coal from a mine in Hunchun, Jilin Province to southern parts, including Shanghai. There is speculation that China will supply its own electricity to Rajin-Sonbong beginning in April 2011.

Quoting a North Korean source, the online newspaper Daily NK stated that in December the North and Red China signed an investment pact that will lead to the building of three more piers at the port, and a highway and railroad between Quanhe in Jilin Province and Rajin-Sonbong.

Witnesses in the port city have observed that “the number of Chinese people arriving in the special zone has grown as a result of the North’s quest for investment.” Another North Korean source confirmed: “The North Korean State Security has more or less stopped checking Chinese people. The North has apparently concluded that it is unavoidable to accept the Chinese military presence on its land to woo Chinese investment, even if it’s not happy about it.”

Beijing denies that it has sent troops into North Korea, or has plans to do so. “China will not send a single soldier to other countries without the approval of the UN,” stated an anonymous official at the Chinese Ministry of Defense in an interview with China’s Global Times daily.

Meanwhile, South Korea continues to monitor war preparations in the North, including the expansion of Pyongyang’s already substantial special forces units, as well as the deployment of a new battle tank, called the Storm, and the creation of the new tank brigades. North Korean commandos total 200,000, outnumbering by 10 times their Southern counterparts, who are pictured above.

Last month, according to the South Korean defense ministry, some North Korean troops stationed along the Demilitarized Zone were observed wearing a camouflage uniform similar to that worn by South Koreans, apparently to practise intrusion drills. This development prompted the South to expedite the supply of new uniforms for its own troops to avoid confusion. “It’s been confirmed some North Korean frontline troops are wearing uniforms with woodland camouflage pattern which is similar to those of South Korean uniforms,” a South Korean official stated.

About one week ago, North Korean soldiers crossed the frozen Yalu River in order to pursue seven refugees into Red China, before shooting five escapees dead and wounding two others. Then, with the permission of PRC authorities, they dragged the living and the dead back to North Korea. It has been reported that Kim Jong-il’s son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, has ordered soldiers to shoot anyone who tries to flee the country. He has denounced refugees as traitors.

Communist troops from the PRC and the DPRK, with air support from Soviet fighter pilots, first overran the Korean Peninsula 60 years ago, until they were pushed back by United Nations forces under the command of US General Douglas MacArthur. North Korea is itself a creation of occupying Soviet forces at the end of the Second World War.

>Africa File: Tunisia’s long-time socialist dictator abdicates, flees country in wake of violent protests over food price spike, high unemployment

>– January 17, 2011 Update: Protesters Take to Streets of Tunis on Monday, Demand Ruling Party Relinquish Power; Leftist Leader Admitted into Interim Government

– Tunisian Businessman: Ben Ali Was North African Country’s “Big Brother,” Ruling Party Recruited KGB-Style “Citizen Watchers” (Informers)

– Tunisia’s Present Regime Hosted Palestine Liberation Organization’s Headquarters between 1982 and 1991

Yesterday, Tunisia’s long-time socialist dictator, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, abdicated his post and fled the country after Tunisians violently protested high unemployment and a surge in food prices (pictured above). He has reportedly sought refuge in Saudi Arabia.

At least 23 people died in clashes with security forces this week. The violence was provoked by the suicide of a university student who immolated himself after police confiscated produce authorities say he was selling without a permit. The Tunisian General Workers’ Union was one of the forces coordinating the subsequent protests. In one of his last official edicts, President Ben Ali authorized troops to shoot protesters.

On Saturday, Tunisia’s Constitutional Council declared that the departure of Ben Ali is “permanent” and that parliament speaker Foued Mebezza has temporarily assumed power in the North African country. The Constitutional Council, Tunisia’s highest legal authority on constitutional issues, explained that the country’s new leader has 60 days to organize a presidential election.

Between 1980 and 1984, Ben Ali served as Tunisia’s ambassador to Communist Poland. He later became interior minister and then prime minister, seizing power from Habib Bourguiba, the country’s only other post-independence leader, in a bloodless coup d’etat in 1987.

In spite of his stint in Warsaw, Ben Ali later banned the Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party, perceiving the radical Marxist-Leninist group as a threat to his Socialist International-affiliated Constitutional Democratic Rally. The RCD has been the dominant force in post-independence Tunisia, known until 1964 as the New Constitutional Party and then until 1987 as the Socialist Constitutional Party. The last was the only legal party between 1964 and 1981.

One Tunisian recounts the RCD’s pervasive, Soviet-like influence in that country, including the party’s recruitment of “citizen watchers” (informers):

He remembers the form. You filled it out to become a “citizen watcher” for the party of Zine el Abidine ben Ali. It meant you would spy. Inform on your friends, your family, the people at work and get paid for it. Again and again throughout his 30 years, Ahmad Chebil says, they approached him. They offered him perks and advantageous jobs, home loans and car credit. But each time he refused entreaties to join the president’s Constitutional Democratic Rally, or RCD, its French initials.

It is not clear if the RCD will be dissolved as a result of Ben Ali’s departure. In a late-breaking report from January 17, the MSM reports that protesters took to the streets of Tunis on Monday, demanding that the ruling party relinquish power. Protesters chanted: “Out with the RCD!” and “Out with the party of the dictatorship!” Tunisian security forces responded with water cannon, tear gas, and warning shots from their firearms.

Ahead of promised free elections, Najib Chebbi, founder of the leftist Progressive Democratic Party, which opposed Ben Ali, will become regional development minister in the interim government. Opposition leaders will also get the education and health portfolios.

Between 1982 and 1991, the Palestine Liberation Organization was based in Tunis. On October 1, 1985, the Israeli Air Force bombed the PLO’s Tunis headquarters, killing more than 60 people.

Before leaving Tunis, Ben Ali dismissed his government, declared a state of emergency, and banned public gatherings. He promised political and media reforms and slashed prices on food staples. On Friday night, rioters set fire to the main train station in Tunis and looted shops. Today, officials acknowleded that 42 detainees died in a prison fire after at least one inmate tried to escape. The military closed Tunisian airspace on Friday, but it was reopened on Saturday.

>Middle East File: Hezbollah withdraws from Lebanese government over UN probe, IAF conducts mock raid over S. Lebanon, UNIFIL scales back patrols

> Pictured here: Ousted by a parliamentary coup while absent from Lebanon, Saad Hariri (left) and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan pose for cameras before a meeting in Ankara, on January 14, 2011. The former prime minister was in Turkey for talks expected to focus on the collapse of his government.

On January 12, Lebanon’s coalition government collapsed when 11 Hezbollah ministers made good on earlier threats to bolt from the cabinet, even as Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with US President Barack Hussein Obama in Washington.

Hariri’s fragile alliance with Hezbollah emerged from a peace agreement ending an outbreak of civil strife in May 2008, when at least 80 people were killed after Hezbollah and its allies seized control of west Beirut. The Shiite Muslim political party and militia withdrew from the government after months of negotiations brokered by Syria and Saudi Arabia failed to produce a compromise over the United Nations tribunal examining the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, Saad’s father.

As soon as the Hezbollah ministers walked, the Lebanese army deployed extra troops in the streets of Beirut in case of new skirmishes between supporters of the pro-Western March 14th coalition and the pro-Syrian/ Iranian March 8th coalition. The Beirut stock market dropped precipitously when word of Hezbollah’s departure from government reached investors.

“We are in a new political and ministerial crisis,” commented Boutros Harb, a legislator allied with Hariri, adding: “There is no room for bargaining over the tribunal and justice. We remain open to dialogue without compromising [our] general principles.”

Hezbollah, whose ally Syria is blamed by many Lebanese for the killing, has demanded an end to the UN probe. In a November 11, 2010 rant, Hassan Nasrallah warned that Hezbollah will not allow its members to be detained and would “cut off the hand” of any authorities who attempt to make arrests. An initial UN inquiry charged four pro-Syrian officials in Lebanon’s security services with Rafik’s murder. They were held in jail for four years before being released in 2009 due to a lack of evidence, after some witnesses changed or retracted statements.

A senior US official travelling with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Qatar was reluctant to predict the eruption of more violence in Lebanon, noting that “Hezbollah and its allies so far have been using only legal means to bring down the government and there have been no signs that they are trying to mobilize supporters in the streets.” This may be so, but in leaving the government, Hezbollah is sending a clear message that it will no longer tolerate the March 14th coalition’s pro-USA stance. Hezbollah may also be disengaging itself from the Lebanese government so it can ramp up war preparations against Israel.

Meanwhile, regional leaders are closely watching political developments in Lebanon. World Bulletin reports that on Wednesday Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was then also in Qatar, spoke with ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the telephone. “The two officials assessed the developments in Lebanon,” the news site’s sources revealed. Both Erdogan and al-Assad are openly hostile to Israel. In fact, Syria, which never concluded a peace treaty with Israel after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, remains in a de facto state of war with the Jewish state.

The Israeli government is also monitoring political developments in Lebanon. This was evidenced by the Israeli Air Force’s low-altitude mock raid over southern Lebanon on Wednesday. The jets flew over Nabatiyeh, Iqlim al Tuffah, Marjayoun, and Khaim, although the UN Security Council forbade such military actions in Resolution 1701, which ended Israel’s 2006 offensive against Lebanon. It is believe that Hezbollah militiamen have redeployed thousands of Russian-built missiles, procured through Iran and Syria, throughout southern Lebanon, with the intent of annihilating the Jewish state.

Possibly in anticipation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, the Israeli media reports that United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has scaled back its patrols in southern Lebanon: “UNIFIL has reduced the scope of patrols in south Lebanon following the political crisis in the country, Lebanese newspaper al-Akhabar reported on Friday. According to the publication, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, most of the foreign commanders in UNIFIL spoke with diplomats from their countries as well as officials in Beirut in order to guarantee their troops’ safety.”

>Mexican Narco-State File: PRI boss/Socialist International VP huddles with Castro in Havana, Paredes’ colleague poised to win presidency in 2012

>– Nieto Victory in 2012 Election Detrimental for Shaky US-Mexican Alliance, While Obrador Victory Downright Disastrous for US National Security

– Army Uses New Law to Arrest Police Chief in Nuevo Leon on Charges of Informing Los Zetas of Troop Movements

– Drug Gang Abducts and Beats US Business Exec in Monterrey, Steals Man’s Armored Car, Police Hush Up Incident

– Wealthy Mexicans Flee Monterrey for Houston, Other US Cities, Foreign Businesses Curtail Investment, Bolster Private Security as Cartels Invade City

– “Bishop” of Holy Death Cult Apprehended on Charges of Extortion, Kidnapping, Police Withhold News of Arrest for Two Weeks

For seven decades the Socialist International-affiliated Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ran a single-party dictatorship in Mexico, ceding power to the center-right National Action Party (PAN) in 2000. Beginning in the 1980s President Miguel de la Madrid broke with some of his predecessors, who snubbed the USA in favour of relations with Communist Cuba, by shifting the PRI in a capitalist direction. As a result, the left wing of the party bolted, merged with the Mexican Communist Party and some other leftist groupings, and founded the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) 20 years ago.

Although the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910 and lasted until 1920, contained several ideological strains, including socialism, Mexico, fortunately, never became a full-blown communist state. This did not prevent President Calvin Coolidge’s administration from referring to the country as “Soviet Mexico.” Hope springs eternal, however, and today Mexico’s far left, including it would seem leftist elements in the now largely centrist PRI, continues to nurse plans for communist revolution south of the US border.

In an effort to rebuild relations with Communist Cuba, on Wednesday Beatriz Paredes, president of the PRI and vice president of the Socialist International, arrived in Havana. There Paredes and Castro (pictured above) talked about the current state of relations between the PRI and the Communist Party of Cuba. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez also attended the meeting.

Under the PAN presidencies of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon, Mexican-Cuban relations turned chilly. For example, in 2004, the Mexican government ended a gentleman’s agreement that permitted Cuba’s Intelligence Directorate to operate with impunity from the Cuban embassy in Mexico City. A PRI victory in the 2012 presidential election would no doubt re-install a pro-Cuban regime south of the Rio Grande, creating strategic implications for US national security. The latter is already endangered by Mexico’s out-of-control drug cartels and questionable border security practices under the tri-national Security and Prosperity Partnership.

During last July’s elections, the PRI captured nine of the 12 governorships up for grabs. In those states where Panistas won, this was only possible through an awkward left-right alliance with the PRD. Significantly, political analysts in Mexico noted that the PAN-PRD coalition won with candidates who were members of neither party, or who were former Pristas.

Still, they were reserved about the PRI’s potential for victory in the 2012 presidential election. “The PRI learned you can’t do politics as usual and think you’re going to win,” said Ana Maria Salazar, a television and radio political commentator in Mexico City. Salazar continues: “The PRI was not a winner in the sense of the expectations. But, clearly, the PRI is a force to contend with. It’s too early to handicap the 2012 race because you don’t know who the candidates are yet. But the party is extremely well-positioned to take over in 2012.”

Six months later, voter preference polls indicate that the PRI is definitely poised to recapture the presidency, even if it does not make any gains in Congress. Last month, according to a poll conducted by Berumen y Asociados and published by El Universal, Enrique Pena Nieto, the telegenic PRI governor of the state of Mexico, received the endorsement of 41 percent of respondents in a possible race against Calderon’s finance minister, Ernesto Cordero, and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. In that scenario, Cordero garnered 12 percent support, while Obrador, who ran on the PRD ticket in the 2006 presidential race, gleaned 15 percent.

It goes without saying that a PRD victory in the 2012 election would be disastrous for US national security, since former party chief Obrador openly praised Fidel Castro last year and reportedly met with Gennady Zyuganov, long-time chairman of the (secretly ruling) Communist Party of the Russian Federation, in 2007. At the time, Zyuganov paid little-reported visits to communist counterparts in Cuba, Venezuela, and Mexico. In a private 2009 conversation with Dennis Blair, former director of US National Intelligence, published by WikiLeaks, President Calderon admitted that he believes Obrador is a pawn of Venezuela’s communist dictator, Hugo Chavez.

Both the PRI and PRD would move Mexico into the Communist Bloc’s orbit, only the PRD, as we can see, would move the country faster and farther. A Panista victory next year is therefore essential to sustain the uneasy alliance between the USA and Mexico, as well as the unpublicized role of US military advisors who are training Mexican army officers in counter-insurgency tactics against the drug cartels.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s mafias showed no signs of letting up their bloody rampages in the new year. Last weekend, for example, 51 people succumbed to drug violence, including mutilations, beheadings, drive-by shootings, and summary executions. The murders occurred in southeast Guerrero and northern Chihuahua states, as well as in Mexico City. A grisly discovery near an Acapluco beach included 15 decapitated bodies courtesy of the Sinaloa cartel, which left its calling card in the form of handwritten posters signed “El Chapo Guzmán,” which refers to Mexico’s most wanted criminal.

In Monterrey, Mexico’s most prosperous city and until last year sheltered from the drug war, gunmen fired shots and hurled grenades at the Topo Chico prison, in what might have been a bid to free inmates. Bullets hit the prison walls and a guard post, while a grenade damaged several vehicles parked outside the facility. Police found dozens of bullet casings from assault rifles and a grenade that did not explode on a side street. Yet another grenade blew up on Cuautla Street, shattering the windows of nearby houses and parked cars.

This episode of narcista violence follows the discovery of the partly nude body of 31-year-old convict Gabriela Elizabeth Muñiz Tamez, who was found hanging from a Monterrey pedestrian overpass on December 31. Jailed for kidnapping, Muñiz Tamez had recently escaped as she was being transported from prison to a hospital. It would appear that her partners in crime considered Muñiz Tamez a liability.

In a related story, earlier this month army troops arrested a municipal police chief in Nuevo Leon for allegedly providing assistance to Los Zetas. Jesus Almazan Barbosa served as police chief of San Nicolas de los Garza, a suburb of Monterrey. According to the Mexican army, Almazan ordered some of his officers to monitor the movements of troops so he could report them to the former enforcement wing of the Gulf cartel.

“The cleaning out of police officers in Nuevo Leon is constant, but this arrest should tell mayors that they must push these actions further,” urged Jorge Domene, spokesman for the state government’s security council. He added: “Nuevo Leon has a law on the books that punishes those who spy on the army to assist organized crime groups. It was frustrating before seeing people who were arrested for this getting out immediately with small bail, but now this new law means that those who are arrested for this crime are detained.”

Home to global cement maker Cemex, top Latin American beverage company Femsa, and foreign factories including General Electric and Whirlpool Corp., the Monterrey region generates eight percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product. In early January, a US executive was abducted, beaten and robbed of his armored car in Monterrey, although police declined to comment on the incident.

Some wealthy Mexicans have fled to US cities such as Houston. While no precise figures are available, demand for so-called immigrant investor visas, which require foreigners to invest at least $1 million in the USA, are “surging” in Monterrey. “We are talking about an exodus,” remarked Jose Cornide, a private wealth advisor who assists applicants with the immigration process. No large foreign companies have withdrawn from Nuevo Leon because of the drug war, but some executives are curtailing investments. In fact, companies are now spending five percent of cash flow on security, a cost that was unnecessary only a few years ago.

Although the drug war rages, Mexican authorities have apprehended some more important figures in the country’s criminal underworld. Between December 18 and 20, 2010, police arrested David Romo Guillen, leader of the Traditional Catholic Church, known as the Holy Death cult, and eight other suspects. However, the arrests were not made public until January 4. Romo and cult followers have been charged with extortion and kidnapping.

On December 14, authorities allege, the sect leader and his cohorts, posing as members of Los Zetas, invaded a private residence, stole jewelry, and tied up a domestic worker. The suspects face additional charges for setting up bank accounts to receive ransom deposits, as well as stealing automobiles, jewelry, cash, and documents from various unnamed victims. The suspects have been also been linked to other cases, including an extortion racket “targeting a federal legislator” and the kidnapping of a corporate accountant. “The arrests are politically motivated and plans to build a church in the northeastern section of the capital will not be scrapped,” Romo protested at the time of his detention.

Holy Death, which claims five million adherents worldwide, is headquartered in Mexico City. In recent years, the cult has spread across the country, including the US border region, where followers erect altars, make offerings, and ascribe miracles to their “god,” who is a spitting image of the Grim Reaper. Mexican authorities acknowledge that several drug lords are among the sect’s adherents, since altars and images of the Holy Death have been discovered during police raids.

On January 5, the army announced that it had arrested Jesus Israel de la Cruz Lopez in Tijuana. Cruz Lopez, alias “El Tomate,” is believed to be a lieutenant in the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico’s largest mafia. One year ago, Mexican authorities arrested Teodoro Garcia Simental in La Paz, Baja California Sur. Garcia was a top lieutenant for the Tijuana cartel until he defected to the rival Sinaloa cartel after a power struggle. Over the years, US and Mexican police have discovered a number of sophisticated drug tunnels in the San Diego-Tijuana cross-border region.

President Calderon has touted the fall of the Tijuana cartel, which was pronounced “dead” in 2008, as an example of a “success story” in his government’s war against the mafias. However, a Tijuana police spokesman recently commented that there has been a resurgence of cartel activity in the city.

>Grey Terror File: Gunman assassinates US federal judge outside Tucson Safeway, shoots US Congresswoman in head, kills girl, 4 others

>– Fox News Intimates Link between Accused Gunman and “Anti-Zionist, Anti-Semitic, Anti-Immigrant” Group American Renaissance

– YouTube Profile Reveals Loughner’s Favorite Reading Material: Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf

– Fidel Castro Laments Giffords Shooting, Implicates US Right Due to Opposition to Arizona Politician’s Immigration Reform Policies

Blogger’s Note: We are back from a much-needed vacation that began before Christmas. Communism continues to fester here and there so once again we take up the keyboard to wage our information war against socialists of all hues.

The shooting spree that took place in Tucson, Arizona, this past Saturday is an appalling event that tarnishes the USA’s image as the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” For leftists of all leanings, the Tucson killings re-confirm their view that America is a racist, warmongering superpower that needs to be knocked down a peg or two.

In his murderous rampage, Jared Lee Loughner (pictured above) allegedly gunned down six people, including federal judge John Roll and nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, and wounded 14, including one gravely, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Apparently arriving by taxi at the crime site, accused gunman Loughner rushed Giffords, shooting her in the head. Giffords survived the attack, but faces the prospect of life-long brain damage. The weapon seized from the suspect was a semi-automatic Glock pistol. Loughner has been charged with attempted assassination, among other federal charges.

The killings occurred outside a Safeway supermarket where the 40-year-old three-term legislator Giffords was attending a political meeting. Giffords, a “Blue Dog” Democrat who survived last November’s Republican sweep through the House of Representatives, is married to NASA astronaut Navy Captain Mark Kelly. She is the first Jewish woman to represent Arizona in Washington DC and is viewed as a “rising star” in the Democratic Party. Giffords is a former member of the Arizona regional board of the Anti-Defamation League.

Authorities are not confirming any political motivation behind the Tucson shootings or the existence of any sort of conspiracy. In their search for a motive, though, police investigators are examining a rambling Internet manifesto left by the 22-year-old Loughner, or someone writing under his name. There was no “coherent theme” to the diatribe, which accused the US government of mind control and demanded a new currency.

It is known that Loughner withdrew from Pima Community College in October 2010 after several close calls with campus police. He was told to obtain a mental health clearance if he wished to return to school “to show his attendance would not present a danger to himself or others.” The US Army also confirms that Loughner attempted to enlist in December 2008, but was rejected for “unspecified reasons.”

Ironically, while an Arizona State Senator, Giffords advocated bills supporting mental health initiatives and was named by the Mental Health Association of Arizona as 2004 Legislator of the Year.

Following the Tucson murder spree, FBI Director Robert Mueller trotted out the well-worn government theory of a “lone wolf” gunman, pointing out that Loughner had attended a public event held by Giffords in 2007. Early news reports suggested that Loughner may have had an accomplice, but these were quickly suppressed. “An unidentified man who authorities earlier said might have acted as an accomplice was cleared Sunday of any involvement,” admits the MSM, adding: “Pima County sheriff’s deputy Jason Ogan told The Associated Press on Sunday that the man was a cab driver who drove the gunman to the grocery store outside of which the shooting occurred.”

Not surprisingly, insinuations of a “far right” (neo-fascist/neo-Nazi) conspiracy have popped up in the MSM. According to Fox News, reports the Politico blog, the US Department of Homeland Security suspects Loughner may have been influenced by the white supremacist outfit American Renaissance, since the alleged gunman mentions this organization in several Internet posts.

In a memo that was apparently issued to law enforcement, DHS states that “The group’s ideology is anti-government, anti-immigration, anti-ZOG (Zionist Occupational Government), anti-Semitic.” However, contradicting the Fox News story, a “source familiar with the matter” told Politico that DHS in fact issued no formal memo pertaining to Loughner to US law enforcement.

In any case, the head of American Renaissance, Jared Taylor, told Fox News that the claim of a connection between Loughner and his organization “is complete nonsense.” He denies that Loughner ever subscribed to his group’s monthly publication or attended its conferences. Taylor also denied that American Renaissance is “anti-Zionist” or “anti-Semitic.”

American Renaissance’s website, continues Politico, has praised the work of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which was active in promoting Arizona’s anti-immigration legislation, SB 1070. FAIR, founded by John Tanton, has acknowledged that its legal affiliate, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, “assisted [Arizona State Senator Russell] Pearce in drafting the language of SB 1070.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported on Tanton’s “warm ties” with American Renaissance.

Centrist Giffords supports the Obama White House’s deployment of the National Guard to the US-Mexico border, but denies SB 1070 does anything significant to halt the illegal alien invasion. Ironically, she also supports the right to bear arms.

Cuba’s retired communist dictator, Fidel Castro, was quick to empathize with Giffords’ plight and duly noted that the US Right–embodied by the Tea Party, former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and Giffords’ political rival Jesse Kelly–had targeted the Congresswoman for “destruction.” On Saturday, Comrade Fidel wrote:

She is a supporter of migrant reform, stem cell research and alternative energy, measures that are hated by the far right. She was re-elected as the Democratic representative in the past elections. When her father was asked whether she had any enemies, he replied: The entire Tea Party”.

It is known that the former US vice-presidential candidate in the 2008 elections and Tea Party leader, Sarah Palin, published on her website, as the aim for supporters of her party, a map of the congressional districts of 20 of the representatives who had backed President Obama’s proposed health reform bill and she had them marked with the viewfinder of a rifle.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ political opponent was a former Marine who appeared in the electoral campaign with an M-16 in a message which apparently stated: “Help get rid of Gabrielle Giffords…shoot the entire ammo chamber of an M-16 with Jesse Kelly.”

In March 2010, Gabrielle’s district office was attacked. She stated that when people do that they were going to have to be aware of the consequences; political leaders should get together and set limits.

Any sensible person could well wonder whether such an act happened in Afghanistan or in an electoral district in Arizona.

Investigators say they had found an envelope at Loughner’s residence with the handwritten phrases “I planned ahead” and “My assassination,” along with the name “Giffords” and what appeared to be his signature. In a Myspace post left the morning of the shooting, Loughner apparently wrote: “Goodbye friends. Please don’t be mad at me. The literacy rate is below 5%. I haven’t talked to one person who is literate. I want to make it out alive. The longest war in the history of the United States. Goodbye. I’m saddened with the current currency and job employment. I had a bully at school. Thank you. P.S. –plead the fifth!”

Loughner’s YouTube profile states that some of his favorite books are Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. To this day, fascists and communists feed on the discontentment created by unemployment, identifying Jews, capitalists, and Jewish capitalists (!) as the source of society’s woes.

Suspect Loughner will be represented in court by Judy Clarke, the lawyer who defended Ted Kaczynski, who gained notoriety in 1996 as the anti-technology anarchist known as the Unabomber.

The Kremlin media was all over the Giffords shooting, reporting that US Congressman Danny Davis, a Democrat who represents a federal district in Illinois, received a death threat via email on Sunday. “It was some person who emailed one of my staff persons and said that ‘Danny Davis is next,’” Davis related, adding “The [District of Columbia] Capitol Police and Chicago police have been notified. You know some things are cranks, some things are pranks. Some things you simply don’t know about, but I think in this climate it pays to be as cautionary as one can be.”

Last November, the China Confidential blog, citing unidentified Western intelligence sources, reported that Iran and Venezuela, two of Russia’s most reliable client states, were plotting with the Mexican drug cartels and neo-fascists to launch ballistic missiles, biowarfare, and “Mumbai-style swarming assaults” against the USA. We have no hard evidence that Loughner was part of a wider conspiracy. However, ahead of Missile Day, a Kremlin-orchestrated swarming assault in North America could definitely take on the parameters of multiple, coordinated Tucson shooting sprees, targeting officials, indiscriminately shooting civilians, and diverting law enforcement from high-value targets.

Reserving its Spetsnaz units for sabotage operations against US military and nuclear installations and high-profile assassinations (such as the US President), Moscow can farm out other “wet jobs” to the Hezbollah fanatics and Mexican assassins who are already operating on US soil. Should these be in short supply, Russian military intelligence can recruit disaffected, radicalized, unemployed, or mentally ill drifters like Loughner, Timothy McVeigh, and John Allen Muhammad (the Beltway Sniper).

>USSR2 File: Belarusian dictator “wins” 4th term as president, police clash with 20,000 protesters in Minsk, Medvedev shrugs off fraudulent victory

>– East-West Converge (on Communist Terms): President Lukashenko Invites European Union to Merge with New Moscow-Dominated Customs Union, Create Eurasian Customs Union

Blogger’s Note: We begin our Christmas vacation on December 23. Hence, we expect this will be our last post until the New Year.

Pictured above: Police disperse a group of anti-Lukashenko protesters holding a picket in central Minsk, on Monday, December 20, 2010. The banner reads “Go out!”

On Monday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev shrugged off the results of the presidential election in Belarus as an “internal matter” and would not comment on a violent police crackdown that followed the vote on Sunday. Medvedev carefully avoided praise or criticism of President Alexander Lukashenko, who the state election commission declared won a fourth term on the basis of nearly 80 percent of the vote. Medvedev said:

Elections in Belarus are Belarus’s internal matter. What is happening there is, in the final analysis, the internal matter of a neighboring state. I hope that as a result of these elections, Belarus will continue on the path of creating a modern state based on democracy and friendship with its neighbors. For us, Belarus, regardless of who heads the country, will always be one of the closest states.

On Sunday, authorities arrested seven of nine opposition candidates, some of them when riot police clashed with 20,000 demonstrators, who were protesting alleged vote fraud outside the main government building in Minsk. Two of the opposition candidates, Grigory Kostusyev and Dmitry Uss, were released on Monday. According to the AP news agency, “international observers say the count was seriously flawed.” “The KGB [Belarusian secret police] has thoroughly infiltrated the opposition,” the EU Observer quoted an anonymous European Union diplomatic contact as saying.

Lukashenko, like many other older leaders in the Not-So-Former USSR, including Vladimir Putin, is an “ex”-cadre of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Prior to the December 19 poll, the Communist Party of Belarus openly endorsed Lukashenko’s candidacy. Lukashenko is also a close personal friend of Gennady Zyuganov, chairman of the (secretly ruling) Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Zyuganov has visited Minsk on a number of occasions since the “collapse” of the Soviet Union. For his part, a youthful Medvedev joined the CPSU in the 1980s, so his indifference to Lukashenko’s heavy hand is not surprising.

By contrast, a number of US senators expressed dismay at the post-election police crackdown in Belarus, warning Lukashenko that his oppressive regime will “pay a very price.” “Having pursued engagement with Belarus in recent months, the United States and our allies should now consider a tougher approach,” Senators John Kerry, John McCain, and Joe Lieberman said in a joint statement. Tellingly, the US government will not impose serious sanctions on the Russian Federation, which is also guilty of suppressing public dissent, but instead enters negotiations with the Moscow Leninists to reduce the US nuclear stockpile.

Medvedev’s cautious remarks came after mounting tension between Moscow and Minsk earlier this year prompted speculation that Russia might undermine Lukashenko’s 16-year stint as Belarusian president. However, the Kremlin eased tensions just before the vote by agreeing to remove duties on oil exports to Belarus, thereby giving Lukashenko a boost. The two “former” Soviet republics are politically, economically, and militarily joined at the hip through the Union State of Russia and Belarus, Commonwealth of Independent States, Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the new Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

For the most part, Comrade Lukashenko has proven to be a reliable vassal of the Soviet strategists, as was seen on December 9 when the presidents of Customs Union states met in Moscow to discuss details of the Single Economic Space (SES). On December 20, Yury Solozobov wrote for Russia Beyond the Headlines:

Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, with a combined population of 170 million, account for almost 83 percent of the former Soviet Union’s economic potential. The three countries’ combined GDP is equivalent to $2 trillion and the value of their aggregate trade is $900 billion.

The Russian Academy of Sciences predicts that household incomes in the three countries will increase by 40 percent when the SES is “up and running” on January 1, 2012.

At the December 9 summit, Kazakhstan’s president, “ex”-communist Nursultan Nazarbayev, enthused: “The establishment of the Customs Union is the second stage of the integration process. The first is a free trade area. The third is a common market, a common economic space, to be followed by an economic union according to the European model, but without losing sovereignty.” With typical communist bombast, Lukashenko chimed in: “If the European Union or any EU member state wants to join our Union, we will at least look into their application.”

A summit document articulated the long-range objective of the SES: “By developing the Single Economic Space, we are moving toward the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union.” Such an entity as the Eurasian Economic Union would certainly revive Vladimir Lenin’s dream of a “World Soviet Republic.”

>Mexican Narco-State File: Pemex pipeline blast kills 28 in Puebla, Congress revokes immunity of PRD deputy, Guatemala declares state of siege

>– WikiLeak Revelations: President Calderon’s Fears Regarding Iranian-Venezuelan-Drug Cartel Nexus Bolster Media Reports of Plans to Launch Missiles against USA

– Organized Crime Launders an Estimated US$40 Billion through Mexican Banks, New Laws to Clamp Down on Illicit Financial Activity Stalled in Mexican Senate

On Sunday, December 19, at least 28 people were reported killed in a Pemex oil pipeline explosion in central Mexico. The blast hit San Martin Texmelucan before dawn, destroying homes and vehicles, and sending streams of flaming crude through the city’s streets (damage shown in photo above). Up to 13 of the fatalities appear to have been children. Authorities suspect a criminal gang was tampering with the 30-inch diameter pipeline in an effort to steal crude when the blast occurred.

The attempt to steal fuel from Pemex in Puebla state is part of a broader crime wave against the state-run oil giant, which in 2008 involved the theft of five million barrels of oil worth US$750 million. “It’s not an isolated incident. It’s part of the constant problem we’re living every day,” remarked David Shields, publisher of the Mexico City-based Energia magazine.

Last week, the lower house of Mexico’s congress, the Chamber of Deputies, voted to revoke the political immunity of a federal politician allegedly linked to La Familia drug cartel, paving the way for his prosecution. Julio Cesar Godoy, who is a member of the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), faces a federal arrest warrant in his home state of Michoacan. All Mexican legislators are immune from criminal prosecution unless the lower house of congress removes their immunity by vote. Legislators, including his own party, voted 384-2 to withdraw Godoy’s protection.

Alejandro Encinas, who leads the PRD faction in congress’s lower house, hastened to distance the party from Godoy: “I want to make it clear that we are completely disconnected from any criminal activity and organized crime. The country needs transparency and coherence from those who are in public office.” The PRD originated in 1989 through a merger of several leftist parties, including the Mexican Communist Party, as well as left-wing members of the formerly long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which beginning in the 1980s moved to the political center.

The Attorney General’s Office supplied lawmakers with a recording in which a voice, presumed to be Godoy’s, converses with Servando “La Tuta” Gomez Martinez, an alleged boss of La Familia. Godoy was sworn into Congress in September in spite of an arrest warrant against him. He is the stepbrother of Michoacan’s governor. The same month, Godoy insisted upon his innocence during a news conference and denied any ties to drug gangs. Godoy can return as a deputy to Mexico’s congress if exonerated of the charges.

Last week, authorities in Michoacan killed cartel boss Nazario Moreno Gonzalez during a gun battle that also killed five policemen, three civilians, and three gang members. The US government has referred to La Familia as “one of Mexico’s newest and most violent drug cartels.” The cartel specializes in the methamphetamine trade. In true Robin Hood fashion, it also publicly identifies with “the people” vis-à-vis the government, offering consumer loans with low interest rates.

In August, President Felipe Calderon proposed new laws to unify Mexico’s poorly equipped and hopelessly corrupt municipal police forces under state-level commands, as well as hinder the cartels from laundering up to US$40 billion per year through Mexican banks. However, he is encountering opposition from the PRI, PRD, and colleagues in his own National Action Party (PAN). “The president introduced this initiative with a lot of force but it got stuck in the Senate,” Jose Trejo, a PAN senator who heads the body’s finance committee. “If it passes, it will only be with various changes. It will be complicated in this session.”

A US diplomatic cable, published by WikiLeaks, contains a conversation between Calderon and US National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, in which the Mexican president alleges that Venezuela’s communist dictator, Hugo Chavez, financed the 2006 presidential campaign of his pro-Cuba rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. According to the October 2009 cable, Calderon contends that Chavez uses social programs, including sending medical doctors to Mexico (much as Cuba does worldwide), to gain political influence in the country. Calderon insisted that Latin America “needs a visible US presence” to counter Chavez’s revolutionary influence throughout the hemisphere.

Calderon also fretted about Venezuela’s alliance with Iran, the influence of the “very politically active” Iranian embassy in Mexico City, and a possible covert alliance between Iran, Venezuela, and the drug cartels. Along the same theme, Die Welt recently reported that Iran and Venezuela have negotiated a secret pact to set up a medium-range missile base in the South American country, capable of striking the USA. In November, the China Confidential blog, citing unnamed Western intelligence sources, alleged that Iran and Venezuela intend to use northern Mexico as a platform to launch “ballistic missile attacks,” “Mumbai-style swarming assaults,” and biowarfare against the USA.

The US diplomatic cable also relates Calderon’s attempts to “isolate” Venezuela in the Rio Group and his disappointment with former Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who did virtually nothing to restrain the exportation of Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution.” Incidentally, Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, is an “ex”-guerrilla who enjoys Chavez’s open endorsement. Since the center-right PAN took power in 2000, diplomatic relations between Mexico and Venezuela have been “tense.”

In a December 2, 2010 Twitter posting, Obrador, who does not recognize the legitimacy of Calderon’s presidency and intends to run for office again in 2012, demanded that Calderon present proof that he is in Chavez’s backpocket. Obrador stepped down from the leadership of the PRD in 2008 and is now running on a smaller center-left ticket.

Over the last three weeks, Mexico’s drug war claimed more lives and terrified more citizens caught in the cross-fire between rival cartels and between the narcistas, in the one camp, and the army troops and federal police opposing them.

On Monday, December 6, two gunmen burst into a kindergarten in Ciudad Juarez, the mafia-controlled city across the border from El Paso, Texas, and set fire to the school. No one was killed or injured. Police say the would-be extortionists left a message saying the school had not paid a protection fee, which they had demanded from teachers at least three weeks ago. Classes in the school have been suspended and parents have said they will pull their children out of school until safety improves. (No kidding.)

On December 5, “armed commandos” attacked two drug rehabilitation centers in Ciudad Juarez, killing four people and wounding five. Three were killed in one center and one was killed in another. Over the last two years, narcistas have killed dozens of patients at rehabs across Mexico, including nine last summer in Durango and 19 in Chihuahua City, capital of the border state in which Ciudad Juarez is located. In October, gunmen mowed down 14 people at a Tijuana rehab. In some cases, cartels actually run rehabs to recruit addicts, exposing patients to attacks from rival gangs.

On the same day, on Mexico’s Pacific coast, nine bodies were found in Acapulco and nearby neighborhoods. Eight of the men, who ranged in age from 25 to 50, were shot, but one victim’s body was burned. On December 4, police found two headless bodies hanging from a freeway overpass in the resort city, a common tactic used by cartels to scare rivals. Authorities say the battle for control of the fractured Beltran Leyva cartel is responsible for the rising violence in the famous tourist destination.

On December 3, the Mexican army announced that it had arrested a 14-year-old boy on suspicion of being a hired killer for the South Pacific cartel. Officials said US-born Edgar Jimenez, nicknamed El Ponchis (“The Cloak”), was apprehended as he boarded a US-bound plane in Cuernavaca with his two sisters. The military alleges that the teen assassin took part in a number of beheadings under the influence of drugs supplied by the cartel. The army source said one of Edgar’s sisters was accused of disposing of the bodies. The Reforma newspaper quoted Jimenez as saying: “I felt bad doing it. I was forced to do it. They said they would kill me if I didn’t do it. I only beheaded them, but never hung [bodies] from bridges, never.”

Lastly, Reuters reports that some 5,000 businesses based in the northern states have fled to the relative safety of the Mexican capital, once known for its high crime rates and kidnappings. “Ten years ago everyone wanted to leave Mexico City because of the crime, no one would have believed it would become one of the safest places in the country,” said Eduardo Gallo, head of the citizens group Mexicans United Against Crime.

Mexico City authorities have staved off the worst cartel violence by installing thousands of surveillance cameras to monitor city streets and subways. Near the city’s central square, at one of several new command centers, more than 100 police scan 24-hour video feeds designed to track criminals. However, report Mica Rosenberg and Anahi Rama, “even as the sprawling metropolis of 20 million people escapes the grizzliest drug murders and daytime shootouts, traffickers are moving into the city’s outskirts and threatening to encroach on the capital’s relative calm.”

Over the past 12 months, the Mexican government has scored a number of victories against the cartels, killing or arresting several powerful crime bosses. To protect their operations, the country’s mafias have branched out internationally.

On December 15, reports the Washington Post, agents of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and police from the District of Columbia’s Narcotics and Special Investigations Division arrested eight men with ties to La Familia who had set up shop in America’s capital. Authorities also seized millions of dollars worth of methamphetamine as part of the investigation. In a raid near Atlanta, police confiscated an estimated US$5 million worth of crystal meth. Other, coordinated raids took place in Temple Hills, Maryland, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Mexico’s drug war has also spilled into Guatemala’s border province Alta Verapaz, where Los Zetas–which was founded in the 1990s after a group of Mexican special forces officers joined the Gulf cartel–have reportedly established training camps. On Sunday, President Alvaro Colom declared a state of siege in Alta Verapaz, empowering the Guatemalan military to detain suspects without warrants, confiscate weapons, and shut down groups viewed as subversive. The province’s El Petén jungles have a well-established reputation for lawlessness.

The Guatemalan army, which waged a counter-insurgency operation against communist guerrillas in the 1980s, has a documented history of involvement with organized crime. Past corruption, therefore, may be a hurdle as the army tries to combat drug traffickers from Mexico. “Military officers are easily bought off and so are the police. We have a state where impunity is the order of the day,” comments Anita Isaacs, a political scientist who studies Guatemala at Haverford College, near Philadelphia.

>Bolivarian Revolution File: "Militarization of ALBA states" proceeds apace as Venezuela’s ruling socialist party awards decree powers to Chavez

>The red regimes in Managua and Caracas, no doubt taking queues from their masters in Havana, are preparing to rule by decree and martial law ahead of hotly contested elections in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Venezuela’s communist dictator Hugo Chavez has ruled by decree on three occasions since democratically taking office in 1999, while Nicaragua’s past/present communist dictator Daniel Ortega imposed a state of emergency between 1982 and 1988, when Central America was in the grip of the Cold War.

Pictured above: On December 15, 2010, in Caracas supporters of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez beat oppositionists with sticks during a demonstration near the National Assembly, where the governing party and its allies passed laws allowing the president to rule by decree.

This past Monday, the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front exploited its “El Pacto” alliance with the so-called opposition Constitutionalist Liberal Party to ratify three national defense bills that will once again place Nicaragua under a military government, establish a KGB-style internal security apparatus, and confiscate property in the name of national security. Intriguingly, without offering details of the meeting’s agenda, Cuba’s foreign minister, fresh from encouraging the FMLN regime in San Salvador, popped in for a visit with Ortega last week.

Last week, too, Victor Boitano, a former Sandinista and ex-colonel, asserted that the re-communization of Nicaragua is part of a wider conspiracy of Red Axis regimes in Latin America: “These laws are being imported from Cuba and Venezuela as part of a new plan to militarize the countries of ALBA [Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas]. The defense bill package is an attempt by Ortega to democratically impose a military boot upon Nicaragua’s democracy and force the population to participate in the revolution.” Ominously, he added: “This is a terrible, terrible militarization of the society in an undercover way; Nicaragua’s past is returning.”

In light of this past Tuesday’s vote in the Venezuelan National Assembly, Boitano’s contention has proven correct. The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) ratified President Chavez’s request to rule by decree for one year, beginning on January 5, 2011. On state television this week, Chavez insisted he needs the powers to cope with a national emergency caused by floods that have killed 40 and left 130,000 people homeless. In his usual overheated bombast, he responded to his critics by saying that they need to “take Valium” or “see a psychiatrist.” Jesus Faria, a spokesman for the PSUV, said dismissively: “The advance of the revolution brings with it conflict.” Tal Cual, the country’s main opposition newspaper, dubbed Chavez’s renewed rule-by-decree powers “a totalitarian ambush … a Christmas ambush.”

The PSUV-dominated National Assembly is taking advantage of the last days of the current legislative session to implement a new package of laws that will allow the government to shut down anti-government websites and impose a sales tax increase to pay for damage caused by the floods. It also named nine new Supreme Court judges, even though current terms have not expired, thereby precluding the need to negotiate the selection of such high-ranking officials with the opposition.

Venezuela’s opposition, lately emboldened by the acquisition of new seats in the National Assembly in September, admits their influence next year will be limited by the president’s decree powers, and by the fact that as a minority they cannot introduce counter-legislation. More importantly, looking ahead to 2012, the opposition coalition lacks a common leader or platform, other than simply opposing the Cubanization of Venezuela. In 2010 alone, the Chavezista regime nationalized more than 200 businesses, including foreign-owned companies.

>WW4 File: South Koreans stage country’s largest-ever mass evacuation drill, prepare for possible attacks by North Korea

>Pictured here: Obeying a government-organized air raid drill, motorists in Seoul abandon their vehicles near Hannam Bridge, don gas masks, and flee to emergency shelters, on Wednesday, December 15, 2010.
News Updates

– North Korea vows “stronger retaliation,” deadlier than November 23 artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, if South proceeds with live-fire drills in the Yellow Sea. (source)

– Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, warns SK live-fire drills, beginning December 18, could spark “uncontrollable clash” with North. (source)

– Gen. Burwell B. Bell III, commander of US forces in the Republic of Korea between 2006 and 2008, stated in a recent interview: “The situation is near a point where South Korea is going to strike out at North Korea, where we could see an uncontrolled escalation.” (source)

– On Wednesday, reports the AP, “South Koreans stopped their cars, donned gas masks and ducked into underground shelters today in the country’s biggest-ever evacuation drill — a government attempt to prepare traditionally indifferent citizens for possible new attacks by North Korea.” (source)

– New Mexico’s Governor Bill Richardson, on his way to visit NK, was scheduled to stop in Beijing on Thursday. Richardson, reports the source above, “has often acted as a diplomatic troubleshooter and has made regular visits to North Korea.”

>Neo-Sandinista File: FSLN re-imposes 1980s dictatorship as National Assembly ratifies martial law, Ortega relies on sordid “El Pacto” with Aleman

>Strategic Implications of Revived Sandinista Dictatorship:

– Nicaraguan Constitutional Experts: Ortega Intends to Declare State of Emergency, Invoke New Laws ahead of November 2011 Elections

– Retired Nicaraguan Army Colonel: Martial Law Package Part of Wider Red Axis Plot to “Militarize” ALBA States

– Ortega Now Possesses “Legal” Mechanism to Revive Cold War-Era Internal Security Apparatus, Suppress Opposition to Revived Russian Presence in Nicaragua

– Sandinistas’ New Military Government Opens Door to Cooperation between Office of Defense Intelligence, Cuba’s Intelligence Directorate, and Venezuela’s Bolivarian Intelligence Service

Pictured above: Anti-government protesters outside Nicaragua’s National Assembly on December 13, 2010.

Nicaragua’s post-civil war democracy died on Monday, December 13, 2010, as we long suspected would happen when Daniel Ortega was re-elected in 2006, after he stewed on the political backburner for 16 years. The MSM has rightly exposed President Ortega’s long-standing alliances with the USA’s most implacable enemies, such as Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Libya, not to mention his new-found and most lucrative partnership with Communist Venezuela. However, it has devoted less time to exposing the re-communization of this Central American country. Only a few English-language news sources like Inside Costa Rica and Tico Times/Nica News, are closely monitoring the demise of Nicaragua’s fledgling democracy.

Originally slated for a parliamentary vote on December 6, a defense bill package sent to the National Assembly by President Ortega for rush approval was postponed until this past Monday. On December 13, the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front secured the consent of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) in passing the bills, which effectively re-establish a communist dictatorship in Nicaragua. With the support of 70 of 91 deputies, the Sandinistas rammed the three bills—the National Defense Law, the National Security Law, and the Border Law—through parliament in less than 10 days, before the year-end recess, avoiding a legislative process that normally takes months.

The role of the PLC as a true opposition party is questionable ever since former president Arnoldo Aleman, who is widely recognized as one of the world’s most corrupt politicians, formed “El Pacto” with Ortega in 1999. Government critics suspect that, in return for ratifying Ortega’s bills, the PLC will be awarded seats on the Supreme Court and Electoral Commission next year.

In any event, Sandinista lawmakers chortled over their victory, which will probably lead to a declaration of a state of emergency before the November 2011 elections. Deputy Edwin Castro gloated: “Nicaragua is the real winner here. We have achieved laws that, contrary to what people are saying, have been discussed amply.” Journalist Tim Rogers, writing for Tico Times, expounds:

The three laws will empower the military’s role in administering the state, create a new intelligence-gathering network and possibly leave the door open for forced military recruitment in times of ‘emergency’ . . . The laws themselves form only the skeleton of the state’s new defense and security policies. The ‘meat’ will come next year, when Ortega passes the ‘reglamentos’ or presidential interpretations of how the laws will be enacted.

Earlier this month, in an address to the top military command, Ortega, who is constitutionally forbidden to contest the next elections, went so far as to label those who oppose his bills “traitors” to the nation.

Specifically, warns lawyer Victor Boitano, Nicaragua’s new military government provides “Comandante” Ortega with the legal mechanisms needed to employ Sandinista paramilitary groups and a revived state security apparatus to repress and spy on the opposition in the name of national security. In addition to practicing law, Boitano is a former Nicaraguan military colonel who graduated from a Cuban military academy in the 1980s. He resigned from the army in 2007. Boitano elaborates:

These laws are being imported from Cuba and Venezuela as part of a new plan to militarize the countries of ALBA [Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas]. The defense bill package is an attempt by Ortega to democratically impose a military boot upon Nicaragua’s democracy and force the population to participate in the revolution.

If the laws are passed and the new system of national security is implemented Ortega would move quickly to arm and mobilize Sandinista groups–the Sandinista Youth and the Councils of Citizen Power–under the pretext that they are “volunteer reservists” organizing to defend national security.

This is a terrible, terrible militarization of the society in an undercover way; Nicaragua’s past is returning.

Gonzalo Carrión, legal director for the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, warns: “These laws would change the whole dynamic of society from that of an institutional democracy to one that is subordinate to the military.” He adds:

The goal here is to militarize the country at a time when the trend in democratic societies is to demilitarize. The defense package shows that Ortega and the Nicaraguan Army still share an ‘umbilical relationship’ that goes beyond the president’s role as commander-in-chief. Ortega constantly reminds the police and army of their Sandinista roots. The message is that Ortega is more than just the head of state, he’s also the head of the political party and the revolution that gave birth to the army.

Constitutional expert Gabriel Alvarez agrees that Ortega’s military government is designed to subvert the constitution prior to the president’s unlawful re-election bid:

Since Ortega wasn’t able to get the votes he needed in the National Assembly this year to reform the Constitution to allow for his re-election, this package of laws is meant to substitute for the constitutional reforms. If the defense bills pass as is, Ortega will have use of the army and Sandinista-sponsored paramilitary groups to physically enforce the de facto Supreme Court ruling that okayed his re-election last year.

Any protests of his candidacy or demonstrations against next year’s possibly fraudulent elections can then be put down forcefully under the argument that such unrest represents a threat to national stability and democratic order. These laws would institutionalize Ortega’s paranoia and authoritarian style of government. And they would provide a permanent green light to legalize and legitimize the use of paramilitary force. This would institutionalize people’s fear of repression.

The defense-bill package does not represent a political vision based in democracy, rather that of a police state or an authoritarian state. Even the language of the bills, which talks about the need to promote a value-based “culture of defense” and the rights and obligations to defend their democracy and “supreme interests,” sounds “quasi-North Korean.”

Reviewing certain provisions of the three laws offers insight into “Comandante’s” intentions. We have previously looked at the stipulations of Nicaragua’s new Border Law.

The National Defense Law establishes the “right and obligation of Nicaraguan citizens to participate actively and belligerently in national defense.” Article 3 calls for “national mobilizations,” in which “all human, technical and material resources are put at the disposal of national defense in situations of conflict and emergency.” Article 21 calls for the creation of a “reservist force” led by ex-military personnel. Article 25 requires “all media outlets” to “collaborate in the education and divulgation of the values, principles and directives of National Defense with the goal of creating cohesion of the entire Nicaraguan society around the execution of an effective National Defense Policy.”

Article 3 of the National Security Law establishes “permanent, immediate and direct actions to preserve the integrity, stability and permanency of the state of Nicaragua, its institutions, democratic order, rule of law, people and property against any threat, risk or aggression.” Article 8 of the same bill creates a “National Security System,” consisting of “institutions specialized in intelligence and information” and empowered to collect information using “specialized methods of human and technical resources.”

Article 9 calls for the submission of intelligence reports to the president and, with a nod toward the red regimes in Havana and Caracas, the “cooperation and collaboration with intelligence services of friendly countries and international organizations.” Finally, Article 11 states that the army’s Office of Defense Information and the military intelligence network will be subordinate to the “Commander in Chief,” meaning the president of the republic.

It would appear, then, that the Sandinistas’ manufactured border dispute with Costa Rica and their opposition to the US Navy’s presence in Costa Rican waters are pretexts to militarize Nicaraguan society, re-consolidate their 1980s dictatorship, and justify cooperation among Latin America’s Red Axis intelligence agencies.

Nicaragua’s new martial law regime, moreover, will enable Ortega to suppress opposition to a potential revived Russian presence in that country. This dilemma exposed itself in December 2008 when a Russian destroyer appeared off the country’s Caribbean coast, the first time since the Cold War, to deliver “humanitarian aid.” Nicaragua’s opposition, no doubt recalling the baleful presence of Soviet Bloc advisors in Managua in the 1980s, went so far as to brand the Russian Navy’s arrival “unconstitutional” and a “violation of sovereignty.”

Nicaragua may be a small, poor country and its border tiff with Costa Rica a “tempest in a tea cup,” but its refurbished Soviet-built air base at Punta Huete can accommodate Russia’s strategic bombers. These did not materialize during the Cold War, but could conceivably land at Central America’s longest runway at any time in the future. The arrival of two Tu-160 bombers in Venezuela on September 10, 2008, suggests that the Kremlin may try such a provocation in the upcoming months.

>USSR2 File: FSB recruits child informers, Kremlin mulls biggest mass relocation since Stalin, analysts await Putin’s presidential plans for 2012

>– Communist Party of Belarus Backs Lukashenko’s Re-Election Bid, Head of Presidential Administration Alleges Opposition to Disrupt December 19 Poll with Bombings

Pictured above: On December 11, the head of the Presidential Administration of Belarus, Vladimir Makey, appeared on RTR Belarus TV.

The Russian Federation’s Federal Security Service (FSB), which was hived off the old Soviet KGB, has reverted big time to its old communist-era ways by recruiting schoolchildren in the war on terror with a series of cartoons on how to spy on terrorists and neighbors.

The eight 20-second cartoons, which have been aired on TV and presented in schools and movie theaters, portray a boy outwitting a terrorist and informing on him to the FSB. Other videos show the seven-year-old hero setting up a roadblock around a suspicious package and spying on neighbors to see if they have weapons stashed in their loft and basement. He is finally shown receiving a medal from grateful police chiefs while a man sporting a Muslim-style moustache is led away in handcuffs.

Critics, reports the Croatian Times, claim the cartoons will promote paranoia among children and lead to “Hitler Youth-style” or, rather, Komsomol-style spying by youngsters. Russian intelligence services expert Andrei Soldatov said: “This is complete propaganda and makes people more suspicious and increases the number of unwittingly false calls from frightened children.”

Child psychologist Rais Skrynnikova, who works for the Russian Children’s Fund in Volgograd, added: “The cartoons contain elements of fear and negativity. The denunciations of the KGB are still strong in the memories of communities and these cartoons come into conflict with children’s sense of norms and morality.”

Incidentally, Ivan Melnikov, vice chairman of the (secretly ruling) Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), chairs the State Duma’s education committee so it’s no surprise the FSB has a green light to brainwash and potentially once again turn Russian schoolchildren against their own parents. Last month, Comrade Melnikov feted Cuba’s visiting parliamentary president Ricardo Alarcon.

Meanwhile, according to information leaked to the Vedomosti daily, the Kremlin is planning on packing Russia’s widely scattered 141 million citizens, 90 percent of which lives in towns with less than 100,000 residents, into 20 urban centers. Unlike Joseph Stalin’s genocidal internal deportations, however, when entire nationalities were forced to move at gunpoint on the grounds of being “counter-revolutionaries” or Nazi collaborators, relocating would be optional and encouraged on economic grounds alone.

“Much of rural Russia is dying,” points out the United Kingdom’s Telegraph, “as young people move to towns and cities and entire Soviet-era settlements which were built around just one or two factories are no longer economically viable.”

Russian analysts opined that the plan, which resurrects the Soviet-era idea of urbanizing the entire country, is likely to be heavily promoted by President Dmitry Medvedev as part of his agenda to modernize Russia. With speculation mounting about whether Medvedev or his mentor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will run for the presidency in March 2012, the Kremlin’s new urbanization plan could be a useful electoral tool for Medvedev.

Last month, Pravoye Delo (Right Cause), a party little known even in Russia, endorsed Medvedev as its presidential candidate, even though the 2012 election campaign has not officially begun. Undaunted, party leaders Leonid Gozman and Georgy Bovt informed journalists that they support the president’s modernization program.

“This party has no seats in the Russian parliament. There are some Pravoye Delo members in regional parliaments, but these people often hide the fact that they belong to it,” remarked Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama think tank, to the Moscow News. The same news site acknowledges that, like just about every other party of “post”-perestroika Russia, including Sergei Mironov’s Just Russia and Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Pravoye Delo “has been formed with support of the Kremlin, which coordinated the appointment of its leaders.”

Since 2008, political analysts have speculated that Putin, who took up his old post of prime minister, is biding his time, waiting for Medvedev to complete his term as president, before reassuming this position for another eight years, that is, until 2020. They also observe that United Russia is little more than a parliamentary support group for Putin, lacking a durable popular base. By contrast, contends Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the CPRF “remains the best organized force and in polls usually scores second to the pro-Kremlin United Russia,” which itself was founded by “ex”-cadres of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union/Russian Federation.

According to a survey conducted by the Kremlin-friendly VtsIom polling agency, Medvedev would easily win re-election if it were held today, provided that Putin stayed out of the race. Other possible candidates, including Zyuganov, polled in the single digits, the telephone survey showed. Both Medvedev and Putin have declined to state publicly whether they will run in 2012. A separate survey on the public’s trust toward politicians had Putin topping Medvedev 48 to 42 percent.

It would appear, then, that if the Soviet strategists want to install an open communist in the Kremlin on the basis of a “free and fair” election, Zyuganov will have to move into the background, hiding behind a younger, “moderate,” EU-friendly frontman. However, the communist platform has changed little since Soviet times. According to RFE/RL, Zyuganov and his henchmen “call for mass nationalization, progressive income tax, and a state monopoly on alcohol production and sales.” Incidentally, Hugo Chavez is following Zyuganov’s script to a “T,” only in Venezuela, not Russia.

Meanwhile, in the former Soviet republic of Belarus, the communists are again throwing their name behind President Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election bid, to take place on December 19. Explains House of Representatives deputy Igor Karpenko:

The Communist Party calls upon Belarusians to vote for the candidature of Alexander Lukashenko and his policies. The country’s future largely depends on fulfilling civic responsibilities and the active participation in the vote.

Representatives of the CPB have joined the election campaign, during which they will carry out explanatory work among the population about the coincidence of the CPB’s main policies with the domestic and foreign policies pursued by current leadership of the country, for the benefit of an absolute majority of citizens.

The Communist Party of Belarus and the CPRF are united under an umbrella organization called the Union of Communist Parties-CPSU, which is based in all of the old Soviet republics and committed to restoring the Soviet Union from the ground up. Therefore, the UCP-CPSU, which Zyuganov has chaired since 2001, acts as a sort of placeholder for the old CPSU.

Lukashenko and Belarusian authorities are anxious to assure European Union counterparts that the presidential election will be “transparent,” even as they allege that the opposition intends to wage an armed insurgency after the election.

>WW4 File: Russia’s military on combat alert, monitoring Korean situation; NK FM in Moscow, justifies nuke deterrent; Japan deploys Patriots

>Pictured here: Tourists look toward North Korea from an observation post, just south of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas in Goseong, about 205 miles northeast of Seoul, on December 14, 2010. South Korea believes that the North has been secretly enriching uranium at new locations outside its main nuclear site.

News Updates

– On Tuesday, Russian news agency Interfax quoted Russia’s top general, Nikolai Makarov, as saying about political tensions on the Korean Peninsula: “Without a doubt, we have taken measures to increase the combat-readiness of our forces. The [Russian] military is continuing to monitor the situation.” (source)

Ten Japanese fighter jets intercept two Russian Tu-95 strategic bombers on December 14, as Russian aircraft completed 12-hour flight over Sea of Japan and Pacific Ocean. (source)

– Over the weekend, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, in a terse one-sentence news flash, reported that Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun had left for Russia. (source)

– NK FM boasts of Pyongyang’s nuclear deterrent in interview with Interfax: “We once again feel convinced that we have made the right choice in strengthening our defenses with the nuclear deterrent.”

– On Monday, in a meeting with Pak, Russian FM Sergei Lavrov condemns NK shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island on November 23, killing four, including two marines.

– Under new defense policy guidelines, Tokyo plans to boost its deployment of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptor missiles at air bases to counter the threat of NK’s ballistic missiles. (source)

>Latin America File: Cuban FM wraps up trip to red regimes in San Salvador, Managua; Castro to visit El Salvador, Funes out of favor with FMLN leaders

>– WikiLeak Revelations: President Funes Suspects FMLN’s Marxist Leaders Tapping His Telephone, Organizing Anti-Government Protests

– US Embassy in San Salvador Assesses El Salvador’s Government as “Schizophrenic,” Predicts Open Break between Funes’ Moderate Camp and FMLN’s Party Leadership

Pictured above: El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes shakes hands with Arturo Valenzuela, US Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, in San Salvador on December 8, 2010. Funes’ vice president and the leadership of the ruling FMLN are not so kindly disposed toward the USA.

The communist regimes in Havana and San Salvador are closing ranks since the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) won its first election last year, 17 years after the end of the Salvadoran Civil War. This past Monday, while visiting El Salvador, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez praised the importance of ties with the small Central American country. Rodriguez met deputies from the National Assembly’s commission on foreign affairs, with whom he discussed bilateral medical cooperation. In a move to ward off protests, he added that “This is by no means a political intervention. Medical cooperation is strictly humanitarian.”

For his part, Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez lauded the importance of Rodriguez’s visit, the first by a Cuban diplomat in the history of bilateral relations between the two countries. “It is proof of El Salvador’s maturity in diplomatic relations with Cuba,” Martinez gushed.

Rodriguez was not only slated to meet Martinez, but also the leadership of the FMLN, which includes Medardo Gonzalez, and Salvadoran Vice President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the FMLN’s former battlefield commander. During the Salvadoran Civil War, “doctrinaire Leninist” Sanchez acquired a reputation for ordering assassinations. Today, he is widely perceived among Salvadorans as the real ruler of the country. Indeed, cynical Salvadorans joke that he is only “nine millimeters” from the presidency, referring to the caliber of a certain bullet. Significantly, Sanchez dutifully present himself to his Cuban masters in December 2009, nearly a year before President Mauricio Funes made the same trek.

During his San Salvador stay-over, Rodriguez was scheduled to place flowers at the grave of Schafick Handal, formerly head of the Communist Party of El Salvador and later leader of the FMLN. The Cuban FM also paid tribute to Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Catholic archbishop who opposed the military dictatorship and was assassinated in 1980. Finally, Rodriguez placed flowers at the Wall of Memory in Cuscatlan Park to remember the 75,000 victims of the civil war.

The Cuban FM is on a whirlwind tour of Latin America, having attended the 21st Ibero-American Summit in Argentina prior to showing up in San Salvador. Following his pep talks with the FMLN, Rodriguez then flew to Managua, where President Daniel Ortega is trying to implement martial law in an effort to subvert the 2011 elections and rebuild his Cold War-era dictatorship. Afterward, he was slated to depart to Cancun, where the previous mayor employed a Cuban assassin, to participate in the United Nations’ Climate Change Summit.

Reciprocating Funes’ pilgrimage to Cuba in October, dictator Raul Castro plans to visit El Salvador “as soon as the corresponding agreements are made through diplomatic channels.” This is an important development in view of the latest WikiLeak revelations, which expose the political chasm between El Salvador’s “moderate” president and the hard-core Marxists who run the FMLN.

Funes is a former CNN Espanol journalist who did not bear arms during the civil war and who did not join the FMLN until the presidential campaign in late 2008. He has distanced himself from Latin America’s hard-left leaders who have tense relations with the USA, such as Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa. Instead, he has embraced former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, another “moderate” center-leftist. Unlike Vice President Sanchez, who advocates El Salvador’s incorporation into the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas bloc of socialist nations, Funes has snubbed the idea.

By contrast, FMLN party leaders, states a February 23, 2010 cable from the US embassy in San Salvador, “have pushed him to strengthen ties with Venezuelan and Cuba while de-emphasizing the U.S. relationship.” Another message dated January 26 described El Salvador’s government as “schizophrenic.” Posted online by the Spanish newspaper El Pais, the earlier message continues: “The part of the government Funes controls is moderate, pragmatic, responsibly left-of-center and friendly to the [U.S. government]. The part he has ceded to hard-line elements of the … Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front … is seeking to carry out the Bolivarian Chavista game-plan, including implacable hostility toward the [U.S. government.]”

Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez downplayed the content of the Wikileak revelations, which have annoyed and outraged politicians around the world: “The subjective opinions of one official are not going to affect the strong and strategic relation we have with the United States. We think the issue is being given an importance that it doesn’t have.”

FMLN Lawmaker Benito Lara also insisted the party has a “good rapport” with Funes. “I have not heard the president express concern about the FMLN,” Lara opined. However, according to a report sent on August 21, 2009, one Funes ally told US embassy officials that the president “suspects hard-line FMLN elements are intercepting Funes’ and his inner circle’s telephone calls.” Another message that month claimed “hard-line FMLN members” orchestrated street protests against the construction of a hydroelectric dam advocated by Funes.

By last January, the US embassy, looking ahead to the 2012 legislative elections, warned: “If things continue to deteriorate, we could see an open break between the two sides.” The cable elaborated: “The FMLN response would be ugly – massive street protests, labor strikes, road blockages, threats of violence, legislative logjams – and paralyze some government operations and place a further drag on the struggling economy.”