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24 Hours Across Africa

Libya unrest hikes, as troops engage in gun battle with Haftar men.

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Source: Reuters

Forces backing Libya’s internationally recognized government fought house-to-house battles with troops loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar in southern parts of the capital Tripoli on Sunday and appeared to be gaining ground.

Government soldiers, some in jeans and t-shirts, took cover by abandoned buildings as they fired on Haftar’s positions. Some carried anti-aircraft guns they had to remove from their trucks to get through the narrow streets.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which is allied to a rival administration in eastern Libya, mounted an offensive on Tripoli three weeks ago but has failed to breach defenses in the city’s south despite heavy fighting.

The battle for the capital has all but wrecked U.N.-backed efforts for a peace deal between the rival factions and threatened to further disrupt Libya’s oil industry.

Two eastern operations of state oil firm NOC – which have in the past made broad statements backing Haftar – on Sunday for the first time specifically said they supported his offensive. The NOC as a whole has tried to stay out of the conflict.

A Reuters team visiting the southern neighborhood of Ain Zara on Sunday estimated the Tripoli forces had gained up to 1,500 meters compared to a visit a few days earlier.

Other parts of the frontline appeared unchanged and the situation remains fluid. Both sides have gained and lost territory within days or even hours during the fighting.

“We are progressing. We are now in the phase of expelling the enemy from the capital,” Salah Badi, a commander from the western city of Misrata fighting the LNA, told Reuters.

COMPLICATIONS

The role of commanders such as Badi have complicated the situation, diplomats say. The U.N. Security Council and the U.S. Treasury last year issued asset freezes and travel bans against Badi for his involvement in a September 2017 attack on forces allied to Tripoli’s government that triggered weeks of fighting.

The former enemies have now united to fight the LNA but forces loyal to Haftar have said the Tripoli administration is controlled by “terrorist militias” they are fighting to expel.

Tripoli’s supporters have accused Haftar, a former general under Muammar Gaddafi, of making a power grab with foreign backing.

The North African country has been in a state of chaos since Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 with Western intervention. The latest flare-up threatens to leave a power vacuum that Islamist militants could exploit.

Two NOC units based in areas under Haftar’s control issued statements supporting the offensive on Sunday, a day after their Tripoli headquarters had condemned all military use of its facilities.

Benghazi-based AGOCO congratulated Haftar’s forces “on the success and progress in its striving against extremist terrorist militias and militias which steal public funds”.

A separate NOC unit in the east, Sirte Oil Co, also issued a statement backing the Tripoli advance.

Haftar’s forces said on Saturday they had sent a warship to the eastern Ras Lanuf oil port for “training purposes”.

A port engineer said the ship’s arrival had not affected oil exports.


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24 Hours Across Africa

Iran faces sanction over uranium breach plan

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Source: Reuters

Iran said on Monday it would breach internationally agreed curbs on its stock of low-enriched uranium in 10 days — a move likely to worsen tensions with Washington — but it added European nations could still save a nuclear deal that sets those limits.

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In an indication of concern at Iran’s announcement, Germany urged Tehran to meet all its obligations under the 2015 accord. Britain said if Iran breached limits agreed under the deal then London would look at “all options”.

Close U.S. ally Israel, Iran’s arch foe, urged world powers to step up sanctions against Tehran swiftly should it exceed the enriched uranium limit.

U.S.-Iran tensions are growing following accusations by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration that Tehran last Thursday attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a vital oil shipping route. Iran denies having any role.

Iran’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, on Monday denied Tehran was behind the attacks and said if the Islamic Republic decided to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane it would do so publicly.

The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged U.S. forces to leave the region, state TV said.

In an announcement drawing signs of Western unease, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said “We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment (of uranium) and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit.”

“Iran’s reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate,” he told state TV, adding that “the move will be reversed once other parties fulfill their commitments.”

Tehran said in May it would reduce compliance with the nuclear pact it agreed with world powers in 2015, in protest at the United States’ decision to unilaterally pull out of the agreement and reimpose sanctions last year.

The deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

The accord requires Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, capping Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 percent or its equivalent for 15 years.

A series of more intrusive U.N. inspections under the deal have verified that Iran has been meeting its commitments.

Urging European signatories to hasten efforts to salvage the accord, President Hassan Rouhani said its collapse would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

“It’s a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time,” Rouhani was quoted as saying during a meeting with France’s new ambassador in Iran.


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24 Hours Across Africa

China backs Hong kong leader

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Source: Reuters

China doubled down on its support for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday after days of protests in the Chinese-ruled city over a planned extradition bill, and a source close to Lam said Beijing was unlikely to let her go even if she tried to resign.

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Lam’s attempts to pass a bill that would allow people in Hong Kong to be extradited to China to stand trial triggered the biggest and most violent protests in the former British colony in decades.

As the political crisis entered its second week, demonstrators and opposition politicians braved intermittent rain to gather near the government’s offices and call for the bill to be killed and for her to step down.

The upheaval comes at a delicate time for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is grappling with a deepening U.S. trade war, an ebbing economy and regional strategic tension.

Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula since its return to Beijing in 1997, allowing freedoms not granted to the mainland, including an independent judiciary, but short of a fully democratic vote.

Many residents are increasingly unnerved by Beijing’s tightening grip and what they see as the erosion of those freedoms, fearing that changes to the rule of law could imperil its status as a global financial center.

“The Chinese government, the central government, has always fully affirmed the work of chief executive Carrie Lam and the Hong Kong government,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a news conference.

The comments echoed remarks over the weekend from the government’s Hong Kong and Macau policy office.

“The central government will continue to firmly support the chief executive and the SAR government’s governing in accordance with the law,” he said, referring to the “special administrative region” of China.


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