In top Mideast and regional news…

  • Libyan rebels have retaken the strategic town of Ajdabiya
  • Scores are dead in violent protests in Syria
  • French president Nicholas Sarkozy has warned all Arab rulers that they risk Libya-type intervention if governments cross a certain line of violence against their own people.

Sarkozy suggested the Ivory Coast could be next in line for a UN vote on intervention.

Libyan Rebels Retake Ajdabiya

The New York times reports Qaddafi Forces Pull Back as Rebels Retake Ajdabiya

In Ajdabiya, the charred hulls of government tanks hit by allied missile strikes and strafing runs through the night were still smoldering on Saturday at the city’s gates, where they had driven back rebel assaults over the past few days. But on Saturday, hundreds of rebels streamed in, honking their horns, shooting weapons into the air and waving their tricolored flags in celebration.

As night fell, rebel forces had not only recaptured Ajdabiya, a crucial hub city in eastern Libya, but had also driven almost uncontested to the town of Brega, erasing weeks of loss as the airstrikes opened the way.

There was evidence on Saturday that the allied military effort was having an effect not just in the rebel-held east, but in the west as well. In Misurata, where Libya’s military has kept up a tight siege against the last opposition redoubt in the western part of the country, rebel commanders said the allied airstrikes had allowed them to hold out.

Fighting around Misurata erupted again on Saturday, according to a rebel spokesman using the name Aiman. He said tanks and artillery resumed firing into the city on Saturday morning until three waves of airstrikes forced them back.

Protests Continue in Syria, Scores Dead

Bloomberg reports Assad’s Promise Fails to Halt Syria Unrest as Scores Die During Protests

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s security forces clashed with protesters in several cities after his promises of freedoms and pay increases failed to prevent dissent from spreading across the country.

The protests that started earlier this month in the southern province of Daraa may have resulted in the deaths of 55 people, London-based Amnesty International said in a statement on its website yesterday. Security forces opened fire on protesters in the town of al-Sanamein in Daraa and carried out arrests in the capital, Damascus, it said.

Protests began earlier this month, making Syria the latest Middle Eastern country to be hit by the wave of uprisings that ousted longtime rulers in Egypt and Tunisia, and sparked a civil war in Libya. Assad’s regime is an ally of Iran and a key power broker in neighboring Lebanon, where it supports Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim group that has a guerilla army.

“Security elements are firing live bullets on protesters,” a man who identified himself as Omar al-Masri, told BBC Arabic television in a telephone interview from Daraa. “We are not gangs. We are peaceful protesters.”

Sarkozy Warns Arab Rulers, Cites Ivory Coast

The EU Observer reports Sarkozy warns Arab rulers about Libya precedent

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has warned all Arab rulers that they risk Libya-type intervention if they cross a certain line of violence against their own people.

The president told press at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday (24 March) that UN Security Council resolution 1973 authorising air strikes on Libya has created a legal and political precedent on the “responsibility to protect.”

Referring to deadly violence in Syria, he explained: “Every ruler should understand, and especially every Arab ruler should understand that the reaction of the international community and of Europe will from this moment on each time be the same: we will be on the side of peaceful protesters who must not be repressed with violence.”

Sarkozy indicated that he is ready to tolerate a certain level of violence, but that any country which orders its army to open fire on crowds will cross a red line.

“In any democracy there can be demonstrations which can turn violent. But no democracy can accept that the army shoots live ammunition at protesters. This is the position of France and it does not change no matter what the country concerned.”

He suggested that the Ivory Coast, where President Laurent Gbago’s forces recently fired a heavy artillery shell into a market square, will be next in line for a UN vote on intervention.

Recalling the “extremely moving” scenes of Libyan rebels in Benghazi celebrating the arrival of French warplanes and the “extreme importance” of the United Arab Emirates’ and Qatari involvement in the coalition, he called Libya a “historic opportunity” for “reconciliation between the two worlds.”

The hawkish speech comes amid criticism of EU “double standards” on tolerating violence in strategically important countries such as Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. Palestinian diplomats have also pointed out the EU did nothing when Israeli jets bombed civilians in Gaza in 2009.

The Mideast and Africa will be a big mess in a hurry if there is going to be military intervention in every country where there is violence.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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