Saturday, 26 February 2011

Civic Hacking in Philadelphia | The Tropo Blog

Civic Hacking in Philadelphia

February 26th, 2011 by Mark Headd

Yesterday in Philadelphia, Tropo had the pleasure of taking part in the Data Camp event sponsored by Code for America.

This event was focused on identifying useful data sources for Philadelphia and building civic applications to use that data – in one day! It was a great event, and several really cool projects were taken on by attendees.

Philadelphia Library Locator

I worked with a group to build out a CouchDB-based API for geographic data. Essentially, a Philly version of Max Ogden’s PDX API project, which I talk about more fully in this post.

In one day, our team was able to stand up Philly API and build a demo app that lets users find library locations near their homes or places of business using SMS or IM.

I wanted to demonstrate the power of Tropo for building powerful, multi-channel communication apps quickly and easily. A screen shot demonstrating how the app works can be seen in this post.

Just send an SMS or IM message to the app with an address, and get back the library locations closest to that address. This is a highly effective way to help people who might face some challenges in accessing technology get to a location in their neighborhood where they can have access to the Internet and online government services.

The code for the app is available on GitHub.

This civic hacking event was so much fun that we’re planning another event in Philadelphia in the near future. This upcoming event is going to be awesome, and details will be announced in the coming week.

Stay tuned!

Related posts:

  1. Philadelphia Startup Drinkup
  2. Hacking for the Greater Good
  3. Build the Next Generation of Mobile Apps in Philadelphia
  4. Unlocking Government Data with Tropo and Open Source Software
  5. Hacking History with Tropo

Tags: , , , ,

Latest Updates on Libya's Revolt and Mideast Protests -

February 26, 2011, 9:06 am — Updated: 11:36 am -->

Latest Updates on Libya’s Revolt and Mideast Protests

On Saturday, The Lede is following the uprising in Libya and protests in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and the West Bank. Updates below mix alerts on breaking news with reports from bloggers and journalists on the ground. A stream of Twitter messages from the region is in this blog’s right column.

Auto-refresh is: ONTurn ONTurn OFF
11:34 A.M. |A Libyan King in Waiting?

When Colonel Qaddafi took over Libya in 1969, he ousted Idris, Libya's only king. Idris died in 1983, but his great nephew, Muhammad al-Senussi, the heir apparent, is now speaking out from his exile in London.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse, he offered support for the protesters and spoke of his pride in the re-emergence of the old Libyan flag.

"It's a human disaster, it's terrible. People are killed every day, the hospitals are full of bodies, wounded and dead bodies. They are short of medicines. The situation is a human disaster."
"This flag is becoming the symbol of the young people. That makes me very very, very happy. Because this flag is for freedom."

He is cagey about he possibility of his return: "I see myself as a servant to the Libyan people. They will decide what they want. My goal is to serve my people as much as I can."

Could the 21st century be bringing an unlikely revival of monarchies? In the Times, Mark Landler pointed out that thus far, presidents have been falling in the Middle East, while monarchs have weathered the storm.

Al Jazeera interviewed Mr. al-Senussi earlier in the week (the video includes a brief history lesson and some nice footage from 1969 of the old king and a smiling young Qaddafi):

11:09 A.M. |A Qaddafi on the Pitch

We've heard from Colonel Qaddafi's second oldest son, Seif al-Islam, today, but we don't want to forget his third son, Saadi, who once fancied himself a soccer player. The New York Times Goal blog has a fascinating look at his "career," in which, thanks to the encouragement of Libyan oil money, he actually played briefly in the top division of the Italian soccer league, despite having no apparent talent.

Sadly, footage of his soccer "skills" is hard to come by, but here's a clip from 2003 when he was captain (!) of the Libyan team against Canada showing him shaking a lot of hands after being substituted.

10:57 A.M. |Tunisian Protests Continue

It's not over yet in Tunisia. Agence France-Presse reports that  security forces used tear gas in the capital, Tunis, to break up a protest of about 300 people demanding faster change. "Go home. I'll show you what democracy is," a police officer was heard shouting, AFP says.

That protest was significantly smaller than Friday's, when as many as 100,000 people marched, calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi.

Mr. Ghannouchi has promised elections by mid-July.

Reuters is reporting that Egyptians fleeing Libya are pouring into Tunisia. The Egyptians, guest workers in Libya, say they are being made scapegoats after Colonel Qaddafi and his sons blamed "foreigners" for the violence. They say they have been attacked and beaten by pro-government thugs who blamed them because Egypt's own uprising inspired the Libyan protests.

10:28 A.M. |More From Libya

As a counter to Seif al-Islam's point of view, there's a eye-opening new report from my colleagues David D. Kirkpatrick and Sharon Otterman that describes some of the carnage in Libya over the past few days. Among the gruesome details: troops shooting people from ambulances, antiaircraft weaponry turned on crowds, and removal of bodies from hospitals to disguise the number of dead.

Here is a video said to show protesters who have taken over the city of Kufra, in the southeast of the country. Note the display of the pre-Qaddafi red-black-and-green flag, rather than the Libya's current all-green flag. (Wikipedia has a quite complete look at the history of the Libyan flag.)

10:11 A.M. |Two Views of Libya

The Italian news agency AGI reports that Qaddafi's son Seif al-Islam is staying on message. Speaking of the reports of the killing of demonstrators, he said Saturday: "Soon you will discover that what you have heard about Libya is only a joke. A big joke. Here we laugh about the news speaking of hundreds or thousands of victims, bombings in Tripoli, Benghazi, Zawiya or any other place, and of mercenaries."

It increasingly appears that all of the country save Tripoli, the capital, is in the hands of the protesters.

This update from Al Jazeera includes video of Seif al-Islam in denial mode, as well as footage said to show Libyan army soldiers joyously joining demonstrators. It also includes some bloody scenes from Friday of protesters being fired upon.

9:35 A.M. |Bahraini Opposition Leader Returns

Reuters reports that Hassan Mushaima, a Shiite dissident and opposition leader, has returned to Bahrain from Britain this morning. (The monarchy is Sunni.) At the airport, Mr. Mushaima said, "We want a real constitution. They've promised us before and then did whatever they wanted to."

Mr. Mushaima has been arrested numerous times over the years in Bahrain, and indeed until recently had been on trial in absentia over his role in a supposed coup. But in the aftermath of the recent protests he is reported to have received a pardon.

9:16 A.M. |Security Council to Meet

Good morning from The New York Times newsroom. Victor Mather filling in for Robert Mackey this Saturday morning, bringing you all the news from protests around the Middle East as it happens.

First off, breaking news this morning: Helene Cooper and Mark Landler report that the United Nations Security Council has decided to meet today to consider imposing international sanctions, including an arms embargo and an asset freeze and travel ban against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi,  his relatives and key members of his government. That meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. Eastern.

For the last few days, all eyes have been on Libya, where the protests have been increasingly violent. Today, however, reports are that the country is mostly quiet for now.

Iran News - Breaking World Iran News - The New York Times

Updated: Feb. 24, 2011

Iran has been a quasi-theocracy since the ouster of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In the summer of 2009 it faced its greatest internal challenge, as hundreds of thousands of members of the so-called Green Movement took to the streets to protest elections that were widely believed to have been rigged in favor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The government quashed dissent through the shooting of demonstrators, mass trials, torture, lengthy jail sentences and even executions of some of those taking part, but in February 2011 the unrest sweeping across much of the Mideast led to new signs of life from the opposition movement.

On Feb. 14, protesters clashed with security forces at demonstrations ostensibly called to offer support for the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. They soon turned into what opposition figures depicted as a renewal of anti-government sentiment. In response, hundreds of riot police officers were deployed in key locations in central Tehran and other major Iranian cities, beating protesters and firing tear gas. Reports indicated that 20,000 to 30,000 people took part, and two people were said to have died. Two days later, supporters and opponents of the authorities fought in a battle for the memory of a slain protester.

The unrest was an acute embarrassment for Iranian leaders, who had sought to portray the toppling of two secular rulers, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, as a triumph of popular support for Islam in the Arab world.

With escalating tensions after the reemergence of street protests and their brutal supression, calls intensified from Iran’s Parliament for the two most prominent leaders of the protest movement to be executed.

Critics have called in the past for the two men, Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, to be prosecuted for alleged crimes that would merit the death penalty. But the latest calls for punishment, however, appeared to be the most strident yet — with members of Parliament shouting in unison, “Moussavi, Karroubi should be hanged!”

Mr. Moussavi, a former presidential candidate, was reported missing on Feb. 17, and an aide confirmed three days later that Mr. Moussavi and his wife were under house arrest. Mr. Karroubi is also under house arrest.

The outbreak of dissent has been a sharp contrast to the silence which greeted Mr. Ahmadinejad's decision in December 2010 to push through a sweeping program of cuts in its costly and inefficient system of subsidies on fuel and other essential goods.


Iran has drawn criticism not only for its suppression of opposition but also for a nuclear program that much of the international community believes is meant to develop weapons.

Iran has defied repeated demands from the Security Council to stop enriching nuclear fuel. It has built new, sometimes secret, centrifuge plants needed to enrich uranium - and has enriched it at higher levels. These actions have convinced the West that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, although leaders in Tehran insist their nuclear program is peaceful.

President Obama came into office vowing to engage Iran diplomatically, and in late 2009 Tehran initially accepted an offer for an interim solution under which it would ship some uranium out of the country for enrichment. But Iran quickly backed away from the deal, and stepped up its enrichment drive. In June 2010, after months of effort by American and European diplomats to convince Russia and, in particular, China, the Security Council voted to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Iran. The new measures, a modest increase over previous rounds, were aimed at the military. The United States and Europe took harsher measures on their own.

In late November 2010, a trove of diplomatic documents obtained by Wikileaks showed deep concern among Iran's Arab neighbors over its nuclear program and revealed that American officials believe Tehran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow.

In January 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that international sanctions had slowed Iran’s nuclear program, and the restrictions seem to have disrupted sectors of the economy, particularly banking and export-related industries.

But intelligence officials have pointed to significant problems within Iran's program. Also in January, the retired leader of Israel's intelligence agency said Iran could not develop a bomb before 2015, an assessment most American officials agreed with. The biggest single factor seems to have been a computer virus-- the so-called Stuxnet worm-- that is believed to have destroyed one-fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges. 


The unrest that emerged in February 2011 dates back to the presidential election of June 2009, but more broadly is the product of a long-running struggle between the more moderate and more conservative elements of the elite of the country's theocracy.

For eight years, from 1997 to 2005, the country's president was Mohamed Khatami. He was regarded as a moderate interested in improving ties with the West. But in Iran's complex system of overlapping power structures, his freedom of action was limited by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khameni, a conservative. And the president's overtures to the United States were largely rebuffed by the Bush administration.

His years in office coincided with a stretch of low global oil prices. The 2005 presidential election took place against a backdrop of economic dissatisfaction, and Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected on a mandate to distribute the country's growing oil income among the poor.

The son of a blacksmith, he was an unknown figure in the country's politics who had only served as Tehran's mayor for two years and earlier as a provincial governor for four years. But with the support of the country's religious and military circles - who had been frustrated with the policies of Mr. Khatami, his moderate predecessor, Mr. Ahmadinejad appealed to a large rural constituency who voted for him in hope for economic change.

Mr. Ahmadinejad soon became known on the international stage as the face of Iran's defiance over its nuclear program and hostility towards Israel. He shocked the world when he called the Holocaust a "myth' and repeated an old slogan from the early days of the 1979 revolution, saying "Israel must be wiped off the map."

A Disputed Election and Its Violent Aftermath

The major candidates in the 2009 presidential election were the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Mir Hussein Moussavi, a former prime minister.

Mr. Moussavi served as prime minister from 1980 to 1988. He is well remembered by many Iranians for managing the country during its eight-year war with Iraq, and for introducing food rationing. An architect and painter, he has not held a government post since the Constitution was amended to eliminate the position of prime minister in 1989.

In the course of the campaign, the candidates exchanged accusations that were extraordinarily strong for Iranian politics

Before the voting, supporters of Mr. Moussavi were hopeful, given the large and energetic crowds that had been turning out at his rallies. But early on the morning of  June 13, only two hours after polls had closed from the previous day's voting, Mr. Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, with 63 percent of the vote to 35 percent for Mr. Moussavi.

Mr. Moussavi and a number of other losing candidates denounced the results and rallies were held in cities across the country. Ayatollah Khamenei initially swung between statements in support of Mr. Ahmadinejad and conciliatory gestures. But after a week of large protests and skirmishes between demonstrators and security forces, he gave an angry sermon in which he warned of violence if dissent continued.

The results were appealed to the nation's powerful Guardian Council, which acknowledged that the number of votes cast in 50 cities exceeded the actual number of voters by three million, but insisted that the discrepancies did not violate Iranian law or affect the outcome of the election.

Opponents maintained their defiance, but protests faded away in the face of attacks and the arrest of thousands of demonstrators. A few conservatives expressed revulsion at the sight of unarmed protesters being beaten, even shot, by government forces. Only 105 out of the 290 members of Parliament took part in a victory celebration for Mr. Ahmadinejad on June 23. The absence of so many lawmakers, including the speaker, Ali Larijani, a powerful conservative, was striking. In early July, an influential clerical association based in the city of Qum, the center of the country's spiritual life, called the new government illegitimate.

With a mass trial of more than 100 alleged dissidents under way, Mr. Ahmadinejad was formally endorsed as Iran's leader for a second term by Mr. Khameni. But prominent opponents stayed away from the event, and did so again when Mr. Ahmadinejad was sworn in on Aug. 6 for a second term.

A Challenge From Traditional Conservatives

After a year in which outpourings of public anger failed to effect tangible change, the dust settled in 2010 to once again reveal a more basic split within Iran's political elite. Having successfully suppressed the opposition uprising that followed the disputed presidential election, Mr. Ahmadinejad and his supporters are renewing their efforts to marginalize another rival group - Iran's traditional conservatives.

The rift is partly a generational one, with Mr. Ahmadinejad leading a combative cohort of conservatives supported by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards. On the other side is an older generation of leaders who derive their authority from their links to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Reformist lawmakers now represent a largely impotent minority in the Parliament.

The older conservatives, including clerics, lawmakers and leaders of the bazaar, which is the center of Iran's ancient system of trade and commerce, have long questioned Mr. Ahmadinejad's competence and even accused his ministers of corruption. But in 2010 they went further, accusing Mr. Ahmadinejad's faction of distorting the principles of the Islamic Revolution and following a messianic cult that rejects the intermediary role of the clergy.

To some, those criticisms amounted to a veiled plea by the old-line conservatives to Ayatollah Khameni to rein in the president or even to remove him -- a plea Mr. Khameni rebuffed, leaving Mr. Ahmadinejad more firmly in control than ever.

The End of Subsidies

Iran's subsidies regime, introduced to ensure a fair distribution of limited goods during the Iran-Iraq war, has placed enormous strains on the country’s finances, with energy subsidies alone costing $114 billion a year. That coupled with gasoline shortages stemming from international sanctions prompted the government of Mr. Ahmadinejad to take a step that his predecessors have avoided for fear of the potentially high political costs: ending selected subsidies.

The subsidies, which had until now kept the basic price of gasoline at around 38 cents a gallon were drastically cut at midnight on Dec. 19, 2010, quadrupling the rationed fuel price overnight and pushing price at which motorists can purchase an unlimited amount of gas to a staggering, for Iranians, $2.55 a gallon. In the following weeks, subsidies were also reduced on flour, water and diesel. The regime braced for the kind of angry protests that followed the introduction of fuel rationing in 2007, but none followed.

Iran’s state-directed economy has long been plagued by corruption, inflation, inefficiencies and unemployment, which is particularly high among young people. The problems have damaged Iran’s ability to compete in world markets. Ending state controls and subsidies have long been seen as the first step in reviving a moribund economy that the C.I.A. estimates grew by an anemic 1.5 percent in 2009. Analysts say the unemployment and inflation rates are about 20 percent, nearly double the official figures of 11.8 percent and 12.2 percent respectively.

Growing Influence

The popular revolts shaking the Arab world have begun to shift the balance of power in the region, bolstering Iran’s position while weakening and unnerving its rival, Saudi Arabia. Iran has already benefited from the ouster or undermining of Arab leaders who were its strong adversaries and has begun to project its growing influence.

In February 2011, Iran sent two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since its revolution in 1979, and Egypt’s new military leaders allowed them to pass.

The uprisings have made Iran’s standing stronger in spite of its challenges at home, with a troubled economy, high unemployment and a determined political opposition.

In early 2011, Iran demonstrated its emboldened attitude in Lebanon when its ally, Hezbollah, forced the collapse of the pro-Western government of Saad Hariri. Mr. Hariri was replaced with a prime minister backed by Hezbollah, a move that analysts say was undertaken with Iran’s support.

The turmoil in the Mideast has shredded a regional paradigm in which a trio of states aligned with the West supported engaging Israel and containing its enemies, including Hamas and Hezbollah, experts said. The pro-engagement camp of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia is in tatters. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has been ousted, King Abdullah of Jordan was struggling to control discontent in his kingdom and Saudi Arabia, an American ally and a Sunni nation that jousts with Shiite Iran for regional influence, has been left alone to face a rising challenge to its regional role.

Bahrain: Minor Ministerial Changes · Global Voices

Bahrain: Minor Ministerial Changes

This post is part of our special coverage of Bahrain Protests 2011.

Rumours had been flying around on Friday evening (February 25th) of ministerial changes within Bahrain's government. The rumours were confirmed in Saturday's newspapers, where details of four ministers getting sacked (Eng. Fahmi Al-Jowdar - Ministry of Electricity and Water / Dr. Faisal Al-Hamar - Minister of Health / Shaikh Ibrahim bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa - Minister of Housing / Shaikh Ahmed bin Atteyatallah Al-Khalifa - Minister of Ministerial Council Affairs).

Ministerial changes in Bahrain government. Image courtesy of Al-Wasat Newspaper

Ministerial changes in Bahrain government. Image courtesy of Al-Wasat Newspaper

In their places, two current ministers were reshuffled including: Majeed Al-Alawi switching from Ministry of Labour to Housing and Dr. Nizar Al-Baharna from Ministry of State and Foreign Affairs to Ministry of Health. Minister of Oil and Gas Affairs Abdulhussain Mirza also was given the responsibility of the Ministry of Electricity and Water. Two new ministers entered government with Kamal Ahmed as Minister of State and Jameel Humaidan Undersecretary of Labour being promoted to Minister of the same ministry.

Reactions from social media have been mixed to say the least:

@hussain_info Ppl in #bahrain considers the removal of 4 ministers meaningless for #feb14 & expecting new rallies #lulu #fb

@SamehFoulad على صفحة معتصمي الفاتح على الفيس بوك يوجد الكثير من التعليقات الغير مؤيدة لتغيير وزاري #Bahrain #lulu

The Al-Fateh protesters' Facebook Page has many comments against the ministerial changes

@luluroundabout2 #bahrain #LULU #14feb مو وزيرا الدفاع والداخلية قتلوا ابناء الشعب بدم بارد لماذا لم يقالا عاى الاقل للتظاهر بحسن النية

Didn't the Army and Police kill the people in cold blood? Why weren't they sacked to at least show good intent

@BRNY600 I think sacking the ministers is a sign of good intent … Good I say … #Bahrain #Feb14

@Dr_Sadiq التغييرات الترقيعية تؤكد ان النظام لا يزال يضرب على وتر الطائفية وكأن مشكلة المعارضة مع الحكومة مشكلة سنة وشيعة #Bahrain #feb14

These “patching” changes show that the regime still plays on sectarian lines as if the opposition's problem is a ‘Shia vs Sunni' problem

@mohdashoor 3 ministers sacked as protesters remain in Martyrs Square #Bahrain, and insist on the resignation of the whole government.

@mahmood تعديل وزاري يطيح بـ 4 وزراء: good start. Now prosecute Attiyatallah and his stooges, weed them out & get rid of them.

@emoodz Was Bandergate discovered yesterday?… #iwonder #bahrain #lulu

@emoodz Sacking three ministers is baby step in the right direction.. #justsaying #bahrain #lulu

This post is part of our special coverage of Bahrain Protests 2011.

David Cameron: A World View Interview

David Cameron, you are guilty of repression of people by money - the UK government and system has killed more people over the last hundred years by greedy capitalism than all the dictators in the World - you have even supported those very same dictators in one way or another - look at your weapons contracts with Libya as just one example.

David Cameron: A World View Interview

The War on Women

Republicans in the House of Representatives are mounting an assault on women’s health and freedom that would deny millions of women access to affordable contraception and life-saving cancer screenings and cut nutritional support for millions of newborn babies in struggling families. And this is just the beginning.

The budget bill pushed through the House last Saturday included the defunding of Planned Parenthood and myriad other cuts detrimental to women. It’s not likely to pass unchanged, but the urge to compromise may take a toll on these programs. And once the current skirmishing is over, House Republicans are likely to use any legislative vehicle at hand to continue the attack.

The egregious cuts in the House resolution include the elimination of support for Title X, the federal family planning program for low-income women that provides birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and testing for H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases. In the absence of Title X’s preventive care, some women would die. The Guttmacher Institute, a leading authority on reproductive health, says a rise in unintended pregnancies would result in some 400,000 more abortions a year.

An amendment offered by Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, would bar any financing of Planned Parenthood. A recent sting operation by an anti-abortion group uncovered an errant employee, who was promptly fired. That hardly warrants taking aim at an irreplaceable network of clinics, which uses no federal dollars in providing needed abortion care. It serves one in five American women at some point in her lifetime.

The House resolution would slash support for international family planning and reproductive health care. And it would reimpose the odious global “gag” rule, which forbids giving federal money to any group that even talks about abortions. That rule badly hampered family planning groups working abroad to prevent infant and maternal deaths before President Obama lifted it.

(Mr. Obama has tried to act responsibly. He has rescinded President George W. Bush’s wildly overreaching decision to grant new protections to health providers who not only will not perform abortions, but also will not offer emergency contraception to rape victims or fill routine prescriptions for contraceptives.)

In negotiations over the health care bill last year, Democrats agreed to a scheme intended to stop insurance companies from offering plans that cover abortions. Two bills in the Republican House would go even further in denying coverage to the 30 percent or so of women who have an abortion during child-bearing years.

One of the bills, offered by Representative Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, has a provision that would allow hospitals receiving federal funds to refuse to terminate a pregnancy even when necessary to save a woman’s life.

Beyond the familiar terrain of abortion or even contraception, House Republicans would inflict harm on low-income women trying to have children or who are already mothers.

Their continuing resolution would cut by 10 percent the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, which serves 9.6 million low-income women, new mothers, and infants each month, and has been linked in studies to higher birth weight and lower infant mortality.

The G.O.P. bill also slices $50 million from the block grant supporting programs providing prenatal health care to 2.5 million low-income women and health care to 31 million children annually. President Obama’s budget plan for next year calls for a much more modest cut.

These are treacherous times for women’s reproductive rights and access to essential health care. House Republicans mistakenly believe they have a mandate to drastically scale back both even as abortion warfare is accelerating in the states. To stop them, President Obama’s firm leadership will be crucial. So will the rising voices of alarmed Americans.

The UK government is having it's own war on women too - how many other countries worldwide?

Rebels Resist as Libyan Forces Open Fire in Tripoli

The bloodshed heightened a standoff that has pitted Colonel Qaddafi — who vowed Friday to turn Libya into “a hell” as he hunkered down in his stronghold — against a spreading rebel force and increasingly alarmed international community, which condemned the violence and promised sanctions in coming days.

A rebel officer who is coordinating an attack on Tripoli, Col. Tarek Saad Hussein, asserted in an interview that an armed volunteer force of about 2,000 men — including army defectors — was to arrive in Tripoli on Friday night. There was no way to confirm his claim.

He was especially angered at the reports of security forces’ firing on protesters after prayers. “They did not have weapons,” he said, speaking at an abandoned army base in the eastern city of Benghazi, which is firmly under rebel control. “They shot people outside the mosque.”

Indeed, accounts of the bloodshed on Friday indicated that Colonel Qaddafi’s forces had deployed the same determined brutality as they had earlier in the week defending their leader, who has ruled for more than 40 years.

“They shoot people from the ambulances,” said one terrified resident, Omar, by telephone as he recalled an episode during the protests on Friday when one protester was wounded. “We thought they’d take him to the hospital,” he said, but the militiamen “shot him dead and left with a squeal.”

Reports said several people were killed, but a precise toll might be impossible. Omar said that friends who were doctors at a hospital in Tripoli saw bodies being removed from the morgue to conceal the death toll. Local residents told him that the bodies were being taken to beaches and burned. There was no way to confirm the account, and Omar did not want his full named used for fear of his life.

“We have no freedom here,” he said. “We want our freedom, too.”

Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch trying to confirm the number of fatalities, said she had heard widespread reports of security forces inside hospitals. Top officials of the biggest Tripoli hospitals were said to be loyal to Colonel Qaddafi and understating the casualties, she said.

The Tripoli airport has become a refugee camp packed with thousands of people trying to flee. The floors inside are a carpet of flesh and blankets, including families with children. Outside, a thick wall of thousands of refugees was waiting to get in, and at least two guards were beating them back — one with a billy club and the other a whip.

The city had been cleansed Thursday night for a visit by a number of foreign journalists the Qaddafi government has invited. Billboards with pictures of Colonel Qaddafi that were burned and defaced last week have all been restored, witnesses said. “It is a stage set they built overnight,” one resident said.

Witnesses in Tripoli said that the streets were lined with extra police officers in riot gear before Friday Prayer services, and militia members patrolled the area near Bab al-Aziziya, Colonel Qaddafi’s military base.

A resident who spoke with friends in several neighborhoods said the police opened fire on worshipers after the prayers, killing at least five people in Siyahiya, in western Tripoli, and several other people in Zawiat al-Dahmani, in the city’s center.

There were also reports of gunfire in Fashloom and the Souq al-Jumaa area. Those reports could not be immediately confirmed.

It was no longer possible to reach Tripoli’s central Green Square, the scene of many of the demonstrations — and much of the slaughter. The area was surrounded by checkpoints and barricades patrolled by members of the armed forces, Omar and other witnesses said.

Indeed, earlier Friday, Libyan state television showed Colonel Qaddafi speaking from a parapet overlooking Green Square and addressing a crowd of supporters. There was no sign of resistance, only the sight of thousands of young loyalists. There was no way to know if the broadcast was live or pre-recorded.

David D. Kirkpatrick reported from Tripoli, and Kareem Fahim from Benghazi, Libya. . Sharon Otterman and Mona El-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo, and Gaia Pianigiani from Rome.

Tunisia: Peaceful Protests Turn into Violent Confrontations · Global Voices

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

Protests calling for immediate political reforms and the resignation of Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannoushi continue in Tunisia. Apparently, the ousting of the former President Ben Ali is not good enough for a large portion of Tunisians who seek an overthrow of the whole regime and cutting all ties with the past. On Friday, about 100,000 protesters gathered in the streets of the capital Tunis to rally against the interim government chaired by Ghannoushi.

Protestors in front of the Interior Minstry in Hbib Bouguiba Avenue photo by Khaled Nciri

Demonstrators, find it hard to trust Ghannoushi who has been a close ally of Ben Ali and a long-standing member of his government since 1989, serving as a Prime Minister from 1999 until today.
Later on the night of February, 25, peaceful protests suddenly turned to violent clashes between the police and protesters. It is not clear yet, what triggered the confrontations, but there is no doubt that security forces used tear gas and fired bullets into the air to disperse protesters, gathered at Habib Bourguiba Avenue, near the Interior Ministry.

Riot Police used tear gas to disperse protestors photo by Khaled Nciri

Human Rights Watch(@hrw) only confirms the use of tear gas:

For past 90 mins, HRW watched police firing tear gas at demonstrators in front of Interior Ministry

On its Facebook fan page, the Interior Ministry reports that the protesters tried to break into the ministry's building:

عداد غفيرة من المتظاهرين عمدوا عشية يوم الجمعة إلى مهاجمة مقر وزارة الداخلية بشارع الحبيب بورقيبة بالعاصمة حيث القوا كميات كبيرة من الحجارة على مبنى الوزارة ومحيطها…
وحاول أعوان قوات الأمن الداخلي ووحدات الجيش الوطني تفريق المتظاهرين عبر إطلاق النار في الهواء وإلقاء القنابل المسيلة للدموع لكن المتظاهرين واصلوا بإصرار محاولاتهم اقتحام مبنى الوزارة.

On Friday evening, a large number of protesters deliberately attempted to break into the headquarters of the interior ministry in Habib Bourguba avenue, in the capital, throwing a huge amount of rocks on the building and its surroundings. The security forces and the army tried to disperse the protesters by firing bullets into the air and using tear gas, but they did not back down and insisted on breaking into the ministry's building.

A Tunisian blogger describes the situation at Habib Bourguiba Avenue as she saw it from her window:

C'est le K-O à l'Av H.Bourguiba. C'est la 1ère fois que je vois ça (par ma fenetre). C'est pire que se qui s'est passé le 14 Janvier. Les manifestants ont tout brulés, meme le centre de police près de l'Hotel Africa (Le 7ème). On a secouru des jeunes qui fuyaient la police et d'autres étouffés par les bombes lacrymogènes

It's chaos in Habib Bourguiba avenue. I have never seen anything like it before (through my window). It's even worse than what happened on January, 14. Protesters burned everything, even the police station near the Africa Hotel. We have helped young people who were running away from police and others breathing hardly because of tear gas

Kais (@KaisEG) tweets:

Ça brule devant le ministère de l'interieur… (Source:mes yeux)

It's burning in front of the interior ministry…( source: my eyes)

Mathieu Von Rohr,(@mathieuvonrohr) a Foreign Affairs Correspondent of DER SPIEGEL tweets:

Degeneration of peaceful protest into violence in #Tunis is sad to watch. Some ppl are understandably frustrated, but this does not help.

He adds:

Some hooligans now vandalizing shops on main avenue in Tunis.

The clashes have not caused any deaths but only one serious injuiry.
Vlademir Yebanov (@VlademirYebanov) tweets:

encore du sang sur l'avenue bourguiba.. un blessé grave vient d'etre hospitalisé maintenant

More blood in Hbib Bourguiba Avenue..someone who is badly injured enters hospital now

Julien Collinet(@jcollinet),a Canal+ journalist likens the clashes to a war:

Ambiance de guerre sur l'avenue Bourguiba

an atmosphere of war in Habib Bourguiba avenue

Nicola Beau, a French journalist and writer portrays in his blog Habib Bourguiba Avenue, on Saturday morning after a Friday night of violent clashes:

” On ne reconnait plus notre Tunisie”? Ce matin samedi, un spectacle de désolation, avenue Bourguiban au centre de Tunis, où tout a été saccagé. Des casseurs? des provocateurs? Ou des jeunes en colère contre l'incapacité du pouvoir actuel à prendre simplement la parole? Une certitude, les forces de l'ordre n'ont pas fait dans le détail. Des jeunes se sont réfugiés, affolés, dans les chambres d' hôtels. La peur était revenue.

” We do no longer recognise our Tunisia”? This Saturday morning, an atmosphere of desolation, Habib Bourguiba avenue downtown Tunis, where everything was pillaged. Rioters? Challengers? Or an angry youth against the failure of the current authority to communicate with them? There is one thing for sure, riot police did not pay attention to the details. Anxious young people took refuge, in hotel rooms. Fear has come back.

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

British Red Cross makes £150,000 Libya donation

British Red Cross makes £150,000 Libya donation

25 February 2011

Crowd of protestors©Reuters/ AlertnetThe British Red Cross has made an initial donation of £150,000 from its Disaster Fund to help people affected by the unrest in Libya.

It will help ensure there is adequate surgical and medical care for the wounded and emergency aid for people who have fled from Libya into neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt.

The money is in support of the emergency appeal launched for Libya by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Two planeloads of ICRC medical supplies were due to leave Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday night – one bound for Cairo and the other for Tunis. The ICRC plans to move these supplies into Libya by road as quickly as possible.

"The reports we're getting indicate that the humanitarian situation inside Libya is worsening by the hour," said the ICRC's deputy director of operations, Dominik Stillhart. "We're very concerned about the growing number of people who are leaving their homes in search of safety and trying to cross the border.”

British Red Cross response

British Red Cross staff and volunteers worked through the night of 24 February and during 25 February at London Gatwick Airport, meeting people returning from Libya and offering support as required, including transport home to vulnerable people and their families. More flights are expected on 26 February, to which the same support will be offered.

A British Red Cross psycho-social support team is aboard HMS Cumberland, the Royal Navy ship which picked up around 200 people from Libya on 24 February. The team, there at the request of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, is there to provide practical and emotional support as required to passengers.

Donate to the Disaster Fund

If Power Shifts In Libya, Transition Could Be Bumpy : NPR

If Power Shifts In Libya, Transition Could Be Bumpy

by Kevin Beesley

Libyan  leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks in Tripoli on June 12, 2010, during a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of  the evacuation of the American military bases in the country.
Abdel Magid Al Fergany/AP

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks in Tripoli on June 12, 2010, during a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the evacuation of the American military bases in the country.

text size A A A
February 26, 2011

If the popular uprising in Libya succeeds, and protesters drive leader Moammar Gadhafi from power, the transition could be far from smooth.

Gadhafi's political genius has been his skill in creating a state that revolves completely around him while claiming that he has no formal role in government and is simply an adviser to the people.

During his 42-year reign, Gadhafi has dismantled nearly all the state institutions of the former monarchy he overthrew in 1969, creating a form of government that only functions because of massive amounts of oil money, political repression and his own skills in playing off competing interests that might challenge his grip on power.

Professor Udo Steinbach at the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the Philipps University in Marburg, Germany, says Gadhafi "created a Libya of two systems — one built around Gadhafi, his sons and his family, the other around the 'people's committees.' "

Gadhafi sat at the center of both systems; the first controlled the power and money, the second controlled the people.

Officially, the roughly 6 million citizens of Libya are ruled by a bewildering array of people's committees, from local neighborhoods right up to the national level. Many of these committees were either ineffective talking shops or had overlapping or contradictory responsibilities, creating a system where nobody knew who was responsible for anything, and who was supposed to be in control. Except that everyone knew who was really making the decisions — Gadhafi.

Although portrayed as a revolutionary system of giving direct control of the state to the people themselves, Dr. Alia Brahimi of the London School of Economics says the system "enshrines [Gadhafi's] inherent suspicion of state bureaucracies and institutions, and reinforced Gadhafi's divide-and-rule strategy," effectively preventing the development of any centers of power that could have challenged his leadership.

In the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, the armed forces were a source of national cohesion and stability — but Steinbach says that resource would be not available in Libya since the army is "practically useless" and Gadhafi "has divided it using the tribal system. It was never a national army in the true sense."

"Gadhafi was always suspicious of the army as a potential rival power base," says Brahimi, "and his rule has been riven with coup attempts, so the army has been deliberately emasculated and made powerless by Gadhafi."

Gadhafi was always suspicious of the army as a potential rival power base, and his rule has been riven with coup attempts, so the army has been deliberately emasculated and made powerless by Gadhafi.

- Dr. Alia Brahimi, London School of Economics

Instead, she says, the Libyan leader has created "a number of militias which are ideologically and personally allied to the man himself."

"It will be a long and laborious process of rebuilding the power of the state," Steinbach says, and Libya will have to go back to its roots to find structures to replace the Gadhafi regime.

Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, Libya as a country is actually an amalgam of about 140 tribes and clans, and "the traditional tribal leaders have come up recently," Steinbach says. Two of the largest tribes, the Warfalla and the Misurata, were the first to declare against Gadhafi. But others, notably the Qadhafah and Magariha, provide many members of the security forces. So if Gadhafi goes, there could be competition for power and influence between the tribes.

But, says Brahimi, "the tribes themselves have been fragmented over time, and a huge element of Libya's population lives in the cities, and they are less identified by their tribal affiliation."

About 97 percent of Libya's population is Sunni Muslim, which could be a unifying force for a new Libya.

Steinbach sees an opportunity for the Senussi religious and political movement, which led the struggle for Libya's independence from Italy "and ran Libya quite effectively until the Gadhafi revolution." Its leader, the former King Idris, was overthrown by Gadhafi in 1969. Although some reports say up to a third of Libyans still claim affiliation to the Senussi movement, Brahimi of the London School of Economics says the movement isn't what it used to be. "Their networks and capabilities have been severely and deliberately weakened by Gadhafi."

As for mainstream religion: "Up till now, to be a cleric in a mosque in Libya, you essentially had to have the backing of the state, and most had been co-opted into the system," Brahimi says. However, she says, "it was significant when we heard [recently] that some imams were refusing to read out the weekly sermon that had been handed out by the regime."

Map of Libya
Nelson Hsu/NPR

Until the recent uprising, the most serious threat to Gadhafi's rule came in the 1990s, when he was nearly killed in an assassination attempt, and his security forces fought a series of battles against militants of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

They "were physically crushed by Gadhafi and the remaining leadership put in jail," says Brahimi. "Although those leaders were released over recent years in return for a renunciation of violence."

For his part, Steinbach says he believes "there is a danger of Islamist elements, including the AQIM [Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb] and other radicals" gaining influence in the chaos that would likely follow if Gadhafi falls.

In this case, says Steinbach, Libyans would have to rely heavily on "their intellectuals, especially intellectuals coming from abroad" to create a new system of government, "in a country with no structures, no parties and no constitution."

"Obviously there are tough times ahead," says Brahimi. "It's an unusual level of repression over an unusually long period of time."

But she sees grounds for optimism.

"There are a great number of intellectuals and a great number of very capable people in both Benghazi and Tripoli who are democratic reformers committed to rebuilding their country," she says. We should not underestimate the power of their message, she adds. "The notion of restoring human rights and democracy will find wide resonance in a society that has been kept in such isolation and under such repression for such a long time."

More World

Podcast + RSS Feeds

Podcast RSS
  • World

Experts say governments need a strong plan to fight piracy, now that civilians have been killed.


Fighting Piracy At Sea And In Court

Experts say governments need a strong plan to fight piracy, now that civilians have been killed.


A 'Vacuum' In Libya: An Opening For Al-Qaida?

Experts worry that the group's long-standing ties with Libyan extremists could give it a toehold.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has created a state that  revolves completely around him.


If Power Shifts In Libya, Transition Could Be Bumpy

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has created a state that revolves completely around him.



Please note that all comments must adhere to the discussion rules and terms of use. See also the Community FAQ.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login / Register

More information is required for you to participate in the NPR online community. Add this information

NPR reserves the right to read on the air and/or publish on its website or in any medium now known or unknown the e-mails and letters that we receive. We may edit them for clarity or brevity and identify authors by name and location. For additional information, please consult our Terms of Use.

View all comments (0)»

baby karen - si dices que me amas

Colonel Gaddafi's family wealth takes shelter in London | The Australian

COLONEL Gaddafi secretly deposited 3 billion pounds ($4.8bn) with one of London's Mayfair private wealth managers last week as he sought to protect his family's fortunes.

The deal was brokered on his behalf by a Swiss-based intermediary who, it is understood, had previously approached another well-known City stockbroking firm five weeks ago with a view to depositing funds.

However, when that stockbroker discovered the ultimate identity of the source of the funds, it advised the intermediary to take his business elsewhere.

The chief executive of the firm told The Times: "I said no, because personally I'm not comfortable dealing with murdering tyrants with blood on their hands."

The go-between then looked for another firm to take the funds.

The news comes as the UK Treasury has stepped up efforts to trace and freeze Colonel Gaddafi's assets in Britain, which are believed to include billions of dollars in bank accounts, some commercial property and a ₤10 million ($15.9m) mansion in London.

Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.

Related Coverage

The Treasury's Asset Tracing Unit, set up in October 2007 to implement and administer international financial sanctions, is understood to be supervising the work.

At the same time, the US government is escalating attempts to prevent the dictator from moving assets out of Libya, telling American banks to monitor closely transactions that may be linked to the crisis.

The Swiss government last night ordered Swiss banks to freeze any assets belonging to Colonel Gaddafi, issuing a comprehensive blocking order covering 29 people, including the dictator's wife and children, some of his wife's relatives and six officials of the regime.

It is believed, though, that the Gaddafi family may have moved much of their money out of Switzerland already. This follows a diplomatic row when, three years ago, the Swiss police arrested the dictator's son, Hannibal, after claims that he had beaten his servants while staying in a Geneva hotel.

The inquiry was later dropped but, in response to the original claims, Tripoli said it was removing all Libyan assets from Swiss banks.

The chief executive of the stockbroking firm that was initially asked to take the money told The Times that he was approached by a Swiss intermediary who said that he wanted to invest ₤3bn on behalf of a Libyan family.

"It was all very odd - almost like they had looked us up in the Yellow Pages," he said. "I think the Swiss intermediary was perfectly legitimate. You have to remember that, five weeks ago, dealing with Libya was legitimate.

"But there's been loads of this - we understand Gaddafi has about ten billion in the City," he added.

He said the intermediary had indicated that the money was to have been used to buy stocks in London. London-based stockbrokers and investment managers have noted a surge of money emerging from North Africa and the Middle East during the past month.

Lawyers told The Times that the Mayfair money manager would not have had to apply to the Financial Services Authority, the City watchdog, for clearance under anti-money laundering regulations.

They explained that when information on deposits of this size is filed with regulators, the Swiss intermediary - not Colonel Gaddafi - would have been registered as the client.

Colonel Qaddafi Secretly Moved $4.8 Billion Of His Own Money To London Last Week

qaddafi gaddafiDespite claims that he would fight to the death on Libyan soil, Muammar el-Qaddafi transferred $4.8 billion of his personal holdings to London's Mayfair private wealth manager last week, according to The Times (via @sultanalqassemi).

The secret transfer was identified by the UK Treasury, which has said it will freeze all Qaddafi family assets in the country -- which already equaled around $32 billion.

Switzerland has also said it would freeze Qaddafi assets.

Details of this story were revealed to The Times Of London through another London firm, which has declined to deposit funds for the "murdering tyrant."

See The 15 Longest-Serving World Leaders >

Attack Shuts Iraq's Largest Oil Refinery : NPR

Attack Shuts Iraq's Largest Oil Refinery

by The Associated Press

text size A A A
February 26, 2011

Gunmen attacked Iraq's largest oil refinery Saturday, killing a guard and detonating bombs that sparked a fire and forced the facility to shut down, officials said.

The assailants, carrying pistols fitted with silencers, broke into the Beiji refinery around 3:30 a.m., attacked the guards and planted bombs near some production units for benzene and kerosene, said the spokesman for Salahuddin province, Mohammed al-Asi.

One guard was killed and another wounded, al-Asi said.

By midmorning, firefighters were still trying to extinguish the blaze, said Iraqi Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad, adding that an investigation will be launched. "We hope that work will be resumed in a short period of time," Jihad told The Associated Press, but did not give a date.

The Beiji refinery has two sections. The attackers targeted the installation's North Refinery that handles 150,000 barrels a day. The second section, the Salahuddin Refinery, is under renovation. It used to process 70,000 barrels per day.

Iraq's overall refining capacity is currently slightly over 500,000 barrels per day. Its three main oil refineries — Dora, Shuaiba and Beiji — process slightly over half of the 700,000 barrels-per-day capacity they had before the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Iraq sits on the world's third-largest known oil reserves with an estimated 115 billion barrels, but its production is far below its potential due to decades of war, U.N. sanctions, lack of foreign investment and insurgent attacks.

At the height of an insurgency from 2004 to late 2007, the Beiji refinery was under control of Sunni militants who used to siphon off crude and petroleum products to finance their operations.

Beiji is about 155 miles (250 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

Also Saturday, health officials and police said two teens, ages 12 and 18, died of injuries sustained in anti-government protests a day earlier, bringing the death toll for the day to 14. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.

On Friday, thousands marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces in cities across Iraq in an outpouring of anger, the largest and most violent anti-government protests in the country since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world weeks ago.

The protests, billed as a "Day of Rage, were fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services from the Shiite-dominated government.


Associated Press writers, Hamid Ahmed in Baghdad and Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah contributed to this report.

More Iraq

Podcast + RSS Feeds

Podcast RSS
  • Iraq


Attack Shuts Iraq's Largest Oil Refinery

Gunmen attacked Iraq's largest oil refinery Saturday, killing a guard and detonating bombs.

Protesters use a "Day of Rage" to demand an end to corruption and food and electricity shortages.

The Two-Way

Iraqis Join 'Day Of Rage' Anti-Government Protests

Protesters use a "Day of Rage" to demand an end to corruption and food and electricity shortages.

The first Gulf War ended in a quick and decisive U.S. victory, but it has had a lasting influence.


Twenty Years Later, First Iraq War Still Resonates

The first Gulf War ended in a quick and decisive U.S. victory, but it has had a lasting influence.



Please note that all comments must adhere to the discussion rules and terms of use. See also the Community FAQ.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login / Register

More information is required for you to participate in the NPR online community. Add this information

NPR reserves the right to read on the air and/or publish on its website or in any medium now known or unknown the e-mails and letters that we receive. We may edit them for clarity or brevity and identify authors by name and location. For additional information, please consult our Terms of Use.

Peter McGoo (Pits_and_McGoo)

Peter McGoo (Pits_and_McGoo) wrote:

Sounds like some Iraqis are ungrateful for all we've done for them.

Sat Feb 26 2011 08:22:17 GMT+0000 (GMT Standard Time)

View all comments (1)»

Flickr - projectbrainsaver
projectbrainsaver's A Point of View photoset projectbrainsaver's A Point of View photoset