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BENGHAZI — When longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi’s regime collapsed in a 2011 revolution, many Libyans looked to affluent and booming Dubai as an example of what the future could hold.
Three years on, they fear a Somalia-like “failed state” status, with the North African nation awash with weapons, lawless, at the mercy of militias and in political chaos.
On Oct. 23, 2011, three days after Kadhafi was captured and killed, transitional authorities announced the “total liberation” of Libya, in a joyous declaration from the eastern city of Benghazi, birthplace of the eight-month conflict.
This year, there is no official program for Thursday to celebrate what has become a national holiday.
In a country with two governments — one internationally recognized and the other self-declared — the anniversary comes at a time of deadly clashes between pro- and anti-government militias in Benghazi and west Libya.
“When the country’s ‘liberation’ was announced, our ambition was to become a new Dubai thanks to oil revenues,” said Mohamed al-Karghali, a 39-year-old teacher who fought in the revolt.
“Today, we fear becoming another Somalia or Iraq,” he said.
Many Libyans even yearn for the stability of the Kadhafi days.
“The rampant regional, ideological and tribal conflicts are worse than the rule of the dictator,” said Salah Mahmud al-Akuri, a doctor in Benghazi.
“Some Libyans are looking back to the old regime despite their hatred of Kadhafi.”
Military expert and ex-army officer Suleiman al-Barassi said the bloodshed of the past three years has been as deadly as the revolution which cost thousands of lives.
He pins the blame on the impunity with which militias operate.
The authorities have failed to establish a new regular army or professional police force, opting to rely on militias whose interests ultimately take priority over long-term loyalty.
The militias, made up of former rebel fighters, were set up on the basis of ideological, tribal, regional or even criminal ties.
Benghazi has become a bastion of radical Islamists and a hub for attacks on security forces, journalists, political activists and Western interests.
Deserted by diplomatic missions, the Mediterranean city fell to Islamist militias in July when they drove out pro-government forces.
Almost 100 people were killed last week in a new offensive launched by forces loyal to a former general, Khalifa Haftar, a Kadhafi-era officer turned rebel, to retake the city.
Authorities had accused the controversial figure of trying to mount a coup when he embarked on a first anti-Islamist campaign in Benghazi that was unsuccessful back in May.
But with their control over Libyan territory shrinking, the government and its armed forces this time had little option but to side with Haftar.
As for Tripoli, the capital fell to a militia coalition, Fajr Libya, at the end of August after several weeks of fighting with pro-government militias from Zintan, to the west.
Fajr Libya, made up of militiamen from Misrata to the east and Islamists, seized Tripoli shortly before a newly elected parliament, dominated by anti-Islamists, took office.
Insecurity in the capital has led to most Western countries evacuating their nationals, closing embassies and pulling out foreign companies, further isolating the country.
Even the government and parliament have sought refuge in Tobruk, in the far east of Libya, while their Islamist-backed rivals have set up a parallel administration in Tripoli.
The south of the country has not been spared the mayhem, as tribes battle for control of a lucrative smuggling trade.                 AFP
Hopes of an economic boom in the oil-producing state whose infrastructure is being battered each day and of a peaceful transition to democracy have all but vanished in Libya’s desert sands.
University scholar Mohamed al-Kawash accused Nato countries — who waged an air campaign to help oust Kadhafi — of having “abandoned” Libya and failing to contribute to post-war reconstruction.
On a surprise visit to Tripoli earlier this month, UN chief Ban Ki-moon appealed to Libya’s warring factions to end the turmoil.
“Let me be clear: if violent confrontations do not cease immediately, if sustainable peace is not restored, prosperity and a better life will be a distant dream,” Ban warned.   AFP

Foreign maids from impoverished countries, including the Philippines, endure physical, sexual and emotional abuse in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), trapped by a system that denies them protection, an international rights group yesterday said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the UAE to reform a restrictive visa system and pass a labor law for domestic workers to stop the abuses.

“We already bought you. You don’t have the right to complain,” Marelie Brua of the Philippines said in a video interview with HRW, recounting her former employer’s words.
Brua said she was paid 800 dirhams ($218 or around P10,000) per month instead of 1,000 dirhams ($272 or around P12,000) as stated in her contract.
“As I pretended to clean the playroom, I was punching the floor, crying. Is this all I get for taking a chance here? I kept on blaming myself,” she said.
At 800 dirhams, Brua’s pay is roughly equivalent to the Philippines’ minimum wage.
Brua is one of 99 domestic workers who shared her harrowing experiences for a multimedia HRW report on the abuse, released in Manila.
The UAE hosts 146,000 female maids mostly from the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Ethiopia, according to HRW.
The rights group said the UAE must reform its visa system to allow maids to transfer employers without penalty.
Under the current system, domestic workers face being banned from future employment if they try to switch jobs.
Employers acts as the maids’ visa “sponsors” and this leaves them “exposed to abuse,” according to HRW.
Aside from passing labor legislation for maids, the UAE must cap maids’ work hours and enforce a regulation granting them one day off per week, as well as mandating eight hours of rest in any 24-hour period, it said.
Maids are not covered by existing UAE labor law and were also excluded from recent visa reforms, HRW said.
It added countries sending workers to the UAE must strengthen their embassy staff there, inform their nationals of their rights and coordinate more closely with the UAE government on abuse cases.
From the Philippines, many maids get mired in debt to process work papers even before they head abroad and spend years paying these off before they can offer help their families back home. 

Russia keeps its powder dry as Ukraine votes

Friday, 24 October 2014 00:00 Published in Commentary

MOSCOW — As war-weary Ukraine prepares to vote in a snap parliamentary election on Sunday, its former master Russia stands by for once apparently unable to influence the outcome.
But Moscow’s seeming impotence after years of alleged meddling in Ukrainian politics does not mean its policy toward the former Soviet state will be swayed by the results, analysts warned.
Nor will it prevent the war in the east, which Russia has been accused of orchestrating, exploding into large scale conflict again after the sporadic fighting of recent days, they said.
“Russia does not really have anyone to support in these elections,” Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Kremlin-linked Institute for the Commonwealth of Independent States, told AFP.
“There’s no desire to support those who stand a chance of winning and it does not make sense to support those who don’t.”
Of the 29 parties running for seats in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, the country’s parliament, none formally represent the ousted regime of Kremlin-backed Viktor Yanukovych and most support closer ties with the West.
Polls show that for the first time in 20 years the Communist Party will likely fail to win any seats as Ukraine severs ties with its Soviet past.
After a year of bloody upheaval, and six months of war in the east, for which most Ukrainian blame Russia, the Kremlin’s overt support for any party would be seen as a kiss of death, analysts say.
“The Russian propaganda machine does not crudely interfere in these elections,” said Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Moscow-based Political Expert Group think-tank.
“If Russia shows support for Ukraine’s Communist Party, which hovers around the 5 percent barrier (for entry into parliament), it will flunk for sure.”
A bloc supporting President Petro Poroshenko is widely expected to win, a result that suits Moscow.
“Unlike ordinary Ukrainians, Poroshenko understands that he will have to look for compromise in ties with Russia,” said Kalachev.
In the great scheme of things however, parliamentary elections in Ukraine are unlikely to change Putin’s thinking, no matter the outcome, analysts said.
“Of course, these polls will not change ties between Russia and Ukraine,” said Zharikhin. “At play are factors that are far more serious than the makeup of the new Rada.”
Some 3,700 people have died in fighting in eastern Ukraine since Russia annexed Crimea in March, punishing its former Soviet republic for having turned its back on Moscow in favor of the West.
Despite a poorly observed truce agreed last month, no resolution appears in sight as Kiev wants rebel-held territory to remain part of Ukraine but separatists demand to be treated as virtually an independent statelet.
Key talks between Putin, Poroshenko and EU leaders at a summit in Milan last week ended in an impasse.
British Prime Minister David Cameron noted that Putin had “said very clearly that he doesn’t want a frozen conflict and he doesn’t want a divided Ukraine.”
Yet Kremlin’s goal appears to be precisely the opposite, many analysts say.
Shortly after parliamentary elections separatists plan to hold their own vote, apparently with the tacit agreement of the Kremlin.
“Moscow’s goal remains the same,” said Nikolai Petrov, a professor at the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics.
“This goal is to either control the Kiev government or block the decisions that don’t suit Moscow. And if this does not work out Moscow will try to destabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine — and it has enough resources to do that.”
Accused by Kiev and the West of sending in regular troops to buttress Kremlin-backed separatists battling government forces, Russia is trudging through its most serious isolation since the end of the Cold War. 

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