Tripoli Port Notes–Libya Update

Tripoli Port Notes

 Libya Update

Tuesday- August 23, 2011

Franklin Lamb

Tripoli Port area

This observers tentative appraisal of Tuesdays events along the North Tripoli Port area as of late afternoon 8/23/11 is that the “65,000 well trained and well-armed troops” hyped Sunday by the Gaddafi government don’t in fact exist and that the pockets of government troops here in Tripoli and across Libya that do, will continue to resist what it views as NATO aggression designed to usurp the country’s oil and add Libya to Africom.  NATO is widely viewed as having violated the three main terms of UNSCR 1973, to wit, NATO did engage in regime change, it did take sides in a civil war, it did arm one side, and it did refuse to allow a negotiated diplomatic settlement which many here and internationally believe could have been achieved by early April, thus saving hundreds Libyan lives.  NATO’s  more than 160 days of bombing are seen as egregious violations of UNSCR 1973, Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter and numerous provisions of  international law,  all  part of its campaign to secure Libyan oil and this rich countries geopolitical cooperation  for the US, UK, France, Italy and their NATO allies.

I am advised that some Gaddafi loyalists are headed to the colonel’s home town of Serte to prepare to defend it. Some of my reasons for these tentative conclusions include the no show government troops, the intensifying NATO bombings of Tripoli, which is the only reason the rebels have not negotiated an end to this conflict last April, and my tentative conclusion that there is no reason for massive numbers of government troops, if they existed, not to challenge the increasing numbers of NATO rebels who appear to be sitting ducks as they tool around Tripoli’s troops. According to journalists who arrived at this hotel yesterday from the west, south and east, there appear to be no government forces moving toward Tripoli to join in an Alamo type last stand battle.  Obviously, I could be very mistaken but subject to correction I expect a “rebel victory” without defining that term, late this week.

During the early afternoon of 8/23/11, power and Internet were cut from our hotel and again the sealed windowed rooms heated up fast and had to be essentially vacated unless one stayed in the bathtub filled with tepid tap water. We currently have no local or international phone service or information from outside Libya or any knowledge of what is being reported internationally about Libya.

On Monday night August 22, 2011 this observer met with Saif al Islam.  He was not captured and he is not dead. At least not as of 11 p.m. 8/22/11 or roughly 24 hours after the NTC and the ICC claim he was captured and was being prepared for transport to The Hague. Saif was defiant and he gave assurances that his family was safe and that NATO would be defeated politically for its crimes against Libyan civilians.

Saif took western camera man and reporter on a short tour of Tripoli showing them that NATO was not in control—not 95% in control of Tripoli  as the NTC rep in London has been claiming since Sunday night and not 80% in control of Tripoli as the White House & NATO’s “Operation protect the  Libyan civilians” CEO, Rasmussen, has claimed. But the rebels do appear to currently control large swatches of Libya’s capitol.  A journalist named “Kim” S.  from the UK Independent who has been with the rebels for the past more than two months and who  seemed to literally  sort of stumble into our hotel yesterday told me this morning that  NTC claims made during the period he was with them were “complete bullshit.”

Saif, Colonel Gaddafi’s onetime heir apparent, was in good spirits and exuded confidence. In conversation with one Yankee who he knew earned his PhD at the London School of Economics, that contrary to media reports last spring that Saif bought his PhD from LSE, that it’s not true and he in fact worked hard for nearly three years researching and writing his doctoral dissertation on community development. He was offended by reports than he did not.  I tend to believe him because I found the LSE academically tough and my advisor Professor David Johnson and his Thesis Examination Committee trio, to my chagrin, went over my dissertation, Pollution as a Problem of International Law, for nearly three hours, paragraph by paragraph during my oral Thesis defense, more than two decades ago.  I am thinking and assuming that LSE has not lowered its academic standards since the days of Harold Laski and David Johnson.

My new “office” is located in the outside patio area above the swimming pool and gardens of the “7 star” Corinthia hotel.  Wonderful sea view overlooking Tripoli harbor to the north and the old city of Tripoli to the south. When a bomb hits or sustained gunfire erupts the office quickly moves just inside the glassed in restaurant which features the ONLY ‘hot’ electric plug among the more than 6000 currently dead ones in this hotel. Nobody knows when the hotel generator will crash ending the last of the wattage here and exhausting laptop and mobile phone batteries.

The inside of the hotel is sweltering having had no A/C for more than 48 hours. Wanting some fresh air, I prop open a door to the former Japanese Sushi Bar on the outside patio, but Miss Lorraine, the hotel manager, scolds me.  “You bloody American”, she seethed at me yesterday. “First your bloody government brings NATO to bomb us to pieces and now you fill my hotel with birds!  Damn all of you!”

It’s true that Lorraine sometimes gets a little upset when a bomb goes off and some of the birds from the hotel garden fly into the hotel’s  two level grand lobby complete with lots of plants and palm trees where the poor frightened birds seek safety.  They seem to like it inside our hotel.

Concerning the outdoor hotel garden, for some reason the garden lights are always on (last night the only ones in all of north Tripoli that I could see) and the garden fountains continue pumping which of course uses up quite valuable generator fuel oil.  Lorraine laments:  “As you know Mr. Lamb, the staff has abandoned me and I don’t know where the switch is—I would be ever so grateful if you could find it. I think it’s out there in the garden somewhere, and turn it off. Really I would!”   Well, I did find the switch, turned off the fountains and the garden lights and Lorraine suddenly likes me again. Would that all women were so easy to please.

Yesterday one of the few staff people around here offered me the leaders framed picture (way too big to transport!) and a green flag that had been removed from outside the hotel’s main entrance.  Miss Lorraine became distressed because she thought if I was caught with a green flag I could be in trouble. So as not to cause her more stress I declined with the knowledge that I already have a few packed away as gifts for friends.

The green flags and the gold frame picture of Gaddafi that were removed two nights ago suddenly returned overnight.  There had been a heated discussion by remaining senior hotel management staff— numbering two it appears– about the wisdom of removing them. For now they are back where they were.

9:25 a.m.  Two NATO bombs blast nearby. Three “security guys” from resting on a lobby couch run outside to see what happened. More birds come in and I again move my table away from the patio door.

9:43 a.m. Anti-aircraft gun fire hits the side of the hotel chipping the concrete siding near the garden entrance so I move one flight downstairs to the lobby.

10:20 a.m.  A very long convoy of 237 rebel pickups, some with mounted anti-aircraft guns and filled with young fighters with RPG’s and AK-47’s and heavier guns, pass within 100 yards of me and the hotel balcony above the swimming pool and the seaside road– driving east along the sea front.  They passed in front of the Marriott and Bab al Bahar (“gate to the sea”) hotel complex of five tall buildings, apparently unaware that yesterday at about the same time 22 truckloads of government troops turned right into that same complex and at least some of them went underground.  Last night there was gunfire from the government troop location but as of this moment the government troops are undiscovered (if they did not redeploy overnight) and did not fire on the passing rebel convoy although the rebels slow moving convoy must have presented an attractive target. Again one wonders if the government’s troops are laying an elaborate trap for their enemies or if they have decided to sit out this phase and wait to learn whether Gaddafi’s regime can hang on. Of if they even exist in significant numbers.

The three “battle hardened journalists” who just arrived at this hotel are debating if the rebel’s convoy was in retreat or was advancing.  My own two cents worth is that they were advancing toward the Bab al Azizya (“splendid gate”) Gaddafi barracks which as of this morning NATO has bombed a reported 144 times.  I base my view on the serious looks on the rebel’s faces, their evident adrenalin, the fact that their advance is slow and fairly ordered including five ambulances bringing up the rear and the fact that some of them seem to be checking their weapons and ammunition belts  as if preparing for a firefight. Some fighters eye us sternly seemingly unsure whether we are friend or foe. We wave at them and some wave back. However, moments later we hear gunfire from our rear and it appears that someone is firing at us thinking we are supporting the rebels. Kim and I duck into the hotel foyer but he goes back out.

10:40 a.m. heavy gunfire is heard from the direction of Bab al Azizia Kaddafi barracks.

10:55 a.m. 20 minutes of heavy small arms and mortar rounds erupt and appear to be fired toward Gaddafi’s compound. Maybe it is from the rebel’s convoy that just past but the three battles hardened journalists, including the UK Independent’s Kim, who I have joined up with for the time being, are debating the subject.  Very close AK-47 gunfire.  We come back inside.

12:35 p.m. two “rebel representatives” arrived at the main entrance of our hotel and caused a stir inside the lobby at the front desk.  This hotel has zero security now, the last two uniformed security guys left early yesterday.  The two “rebel” guys offered protection for the handful of us here.  There was shouting as the front desk guys refused their offer. Eventually the “rebels” left. The hotel guys said the visitors were indeed local rebel “criminals” and that they had come to loot the hotel and not to protect it. However, there are exactly 8 rooms currently being occupied and one of the journalist’s claims he was already robbed on route from Zawiyeh yesterday just in front of the hotel. His laptop and his cash were stolen. Front desk hotel staff claims that today the “rebels” stole one car, tried but failed to hot wire two others, and stole ten computers from the hotel office.  They also reportedly set up a rebel checkpoint at Gate Two outside our hotel and replaced the green flags with rebel tricolors. I declined to go check.

The AP’s man, Martin, who also arrived yesterday, just told me that the rebels now control the North Tripoli port area where our hotel is situated. My thoughts move to the 22 truckloads of government fighters who I saw disappear yesterday morning among the seaside hotels near our hotel. Meanwhile, the UK Independent’s men Kim reported that visas are no longer required to enter Libya from Tunisia.

12:50 p.m. a shorter convoy of 47 rebel vehicles passed the hotel.  Maybe part of the earlier group on a victory lap or just patrolling or flaunting their control or perhaps it was a new group.  They did not appear in a hurry or very anxious.  We photographed them without their objection as they waved and drove into West Tripoli.

1:30 p.m. three rockets hit near what appears to be Bab al Azizia.  Heavy gunfire and two more rockets or mortars follow. AP’s Martin and the Independent’s Kim go out to look. Two more mortars appear to hit in the direction of Bab al Azizia. Kim reported that for some reason no one seems to need a visa to enter now from Jerba, Tunisia and he also thinks that perhaps the Kaddafi regime may have set a trap and will close it when his forces see the whites of rebel’s eyes.

One rebel media representative who re-defected back to the Gaddafi regime from the rebels is being interviewed by a journalist this afternoon.  He told us that the NATO office in Naples is writing or vetting all NTC communications and that they have on their staff Israel Defense Ministry of Information psych-warfare specialists who are producing “panic causing leaflets & mobile phone messages” as well as putting out false claims at key moments for maximum impact on  international and local  public opinion.

This observer is not sure if NATO recalls how during the July 2006 war in Lebanon, Hezbollah took IDF and US Israeli lobby psych-war propaganda and wrapped it around Israel’s neck during the 33 day war. However, it appears from here that the West is gobbling up the fake NTC (NATO) “media advisories” being regurgitated by “Libya experts” interviewed ad nausea on CNN, BCC, FOX and other MSM outlets who pontificate about the NTC’s democrats stunning achievement.

The above noted interviewee also claims that he heard rumors that NATO has dropped hit teams to control the messages coming from non MSM reporters who depict NATO and rebel activities in a negative light.  Time may tell.

4:14 p.m. it appears that the hotel generator crashed so there is currently no power whatsoever at the hotel including no elevator. I am not relishing the 18 floor hike up to my room especially given my throbbing right leg.

6:15 p.m.  The young man who let me borrow his bicycle rushed into the Corinthia hotel to tell us that Gaddafi’s compound at Bab al Azizia has been taken by “NATO rebel” forces following the nearly 9 hour battle. A high ranking Gaddafi official advised me last night that he expected Gaddafi’s compound would be taken and that the Colonel will not be easy to locate and will  continue to galvanize a counter revolution in the coming days. He also told me that during the night of Saturday August 20, 2011 Kaddafi issued orders for his troops and supporters not to bomb and fire tanks inside Tripoli for fear of killing civilians and destroying civilian houses.

Franklin Lamb is in Libya and can be reached c/o fplamb@gmail.com

Putin and Medvedev Reveal True Loyalties In Iranian Double-Crosses

Russia Damaging Iranian People

24 August 2011

Iran’s ambassador to Moscow on Wednesday assailedGazpromNeft for a “delay” in developing the country’s oil reserves, as fewer energy investors remain committed to cooperating with Tehran.

Mahmoud Reza Saijadi also announced that Iran asked the United Nations’ International Court of Justice to rule on Russia’s refusal to supply S-300 missile systems to his country.

Saijadi’s broadside at Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of state-controlled Gazprom, comes as many foreign oil majors are pulling out of the country, citing reasons that include U.S sanctions and difficulty in dealing with the government.

Gazprom Neft has delayed the development of the Azar field for nearly two years since signing a tentative agreement with the National Iranian Oil Company in November 2009 to jointly tap its resources, he said.

“Big damage has been done by Russian oil companies to the Iranian people,” Saijadi said through a translator at a news conference. “I have already told the Russian side about the danger of this approach.”

A spokeswoman for Gazprom Neft said the company would have no comment. The company does not mention Iran as a country of presence in the map of its business on the corporate web site.

A Gazprom Neft executive last mentioned Iran in March. Alexander Kolomatsky, head of the company’s Iraq-based Badra project, said in an interview that data from Iran helped the company evaluate Badra’s potential.Gazprom Neftraised its estimate of Badra’s reserves more than twofold to 3 billion barrels thanks to its involvement in Iran, he said.

The company believes that Iran’s Azar field and Badra in neighboring Iraq are part of the same underground oil reserve.

Foreign oil companies have reduced their activity in Iran since January 2010, according to a U.S. congressional report released earlier this month. The report by the Government Accountability Office said 20 firms — out of 41 firms it had tracked as having presence in Iran — withdrew or were in the process of pulling out from commercial activity in the country.

Those companies includedLUKoil, which announced its retreat from Iran in March 2010 citing U.S. sanctions that seek to punish Iran for its nuclear program, which many nations suspect aims to create a nuclear bomb. U.S. lawmakers reinforced sanctions, which previously only barred investments of more than $20 million a year in Iranian exploration and production, by legislation that U.S. PresidentBarack Obamasigned last summer.

The new law complicates any investment in Iran by expanding sanctions to financial institutions, insurers and export credit agencies aiding the Iranian oil sector.

Some other companies that cooled to Iran also listed the difficulty of doing business with the country as a reason why they left, the congressional report said.

Saijadi on Wednesday unveiled a plan to rescue another deal that went sour: The sale of Russian S-300 missile systems, which PresidentDmitry Medvedevbanned in September 2010 in compliance with a UN resolution from June 2010.

Iran is suing Russia in the International Court of Justice, hoping that the court will rule that UN resolution does not cover S-300s, Saijadi said.

“We have filed our lawsuit in order for the court ruling to help Russia go through with the sale and in order for Russia to have a legal trump,” he said in comments translated into Russian, Interfax reported.

In response, a highly placed Russian source dealing with arms exports from the country said Russia will not agree to supply the weapons unless the UN lifts its sanctions, Interfax reported.

“As of now, the contract is not on ice as some people believe. It’s canceled,” the source said.

Moscow is ready to return to Tehran the advance payment of $166.8 million, the source said. The entire contract, signed in 2007, has been estimated to be worth $800 million.

Behold India’s unfolding democratic revolution

Behold India’s unfolding democratic revolution

Sudip Mazumdar
A unique revolution is unfolding across India. No matter what is the immediate outcome of this popular upsurge, triggered by the inspiring determination of a 74-year-old man’s refusal to eat food till the first step towards containing the hydra-headed monster of state-encouraged corruption is taken, Anna Hazare’s fast has already become an event of great historic proportions.

Take a few recent developments in the so-called developed democracies of the West. In the United Kingdom marauding mobs robbed innocent people, burned down neighbourhood shops and houses and attacked police with guns and petrol bombs. In otherwise placid Norway, extreme hate-filled anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant mindset led to the mass carnage of innocent students and bombing of buildings in Oslo. In the preacher of democracy, the United States, a prolonged recession, mounting unemployment and venal partisan politics have led to hardening of anti-immigrant prejudices, instead of a pan-American protest movement. A similar narrow-minded response is on display across crisis-ridden Europe.

Now contrast that with India’s sweeping mass movement. It is peaceful, non-violent and all-inclusive, propagating a ‘middle path’ shunning the extremism of Maoists on the one hand and rightwing bigotry on the other. We must remember that ordinary Indians have been brutalised for far too long by tyrannical state functionaries ranging from a ruthless policeman to a shameless minister looting public money to a pitiless judge allowing the innocent to rot in prison.

And yet, Indians have not swung either to the extreme left or to the extreme right. They have steadfastly remained on the middle path. In a dazzling display of noble human emotions, Indians are helping each other in this mass uprising in a spirit of service and fellow feeling. Look at that family of 40 from Ludhiana distributing food and water at Ramlila grounds and the traders from Shahdara who are running community kitchens to feed people and the grandmother from Kurukshetra who cooks food and brings it to Delhi and shares it with anyone sitting next to her at Ramlila grounds. Such stories abound across the country.

There is, as if, a race to do as much as one can to help the fellow human being braving the punishing heat and a callous government apparatus. There was a blind teacher from Delhi University who came with his blind wife so that they could let their one-year-old son see and hear Anna Hazare. There was an 80-year-old ailing professor from Patna who was brought in a wheelchair by his daughter-in-law so that he could be part of this social churning before he dies. Groups of poor homemakers from the suburb of Palwal came every day after finishing their household chores along with babies in their arms. Taxi-drivers skipped their work one evening and brought their taxis in a procession and many gave free rides to fellow protesters. Diasporic Indians also took to streets from Toronto to London and New York to feel emotionally connected with the movement back home.

No other popular movement since independence has been able to generate such nationwide enthusiasm in such a grand scale that is totally peaceful and non-violent. Even the ‘total revolution’ call by Jayaprakash Narayan in the seventies evoked a response mainly among the youth and stayed confined to northern and western India and sometimes degenerated into violent outbursts.

Cynics and sceptics, unwittingly propping up the indefensible case of an insensitive and insular ruling establishment, have variously tried to run down the uprising by picking up a stray slogan here or an out-of-context comment there or by plainly circulating lies and misinformation. That is why they are as disconnected from the ground reality and popular aspirations as the government and its corrupt minions are.

We must celebrate the swelling popular participation in the uprising that has forced the elected representatives to be accountable in an unprecedented way. If the legislators were truly representing the people, they would be milling among the peaceful crowds, and not hide in fear in their well-guarded, fenced and usurped prime real estate.

This churning will go toward strengthening democracy and making it more meaningful and relevant. Democracy does not mean voting once in five years and allowing the elected politician to lord over people and to loot public money and resources, secured in comfortable enclaves and protected by phony legalese.

It is the criminal masquerading as politician who has degraded parliament and its procedures, not the long suffering Indian people who are out on the street today demanding accountability and transparency – two hallmarks of real democracy. And the citadel of corruption is shaking. It is time to be proud of India’s vibrant and exemplary democratic revolution.

(24.8.2011 -Sudip Mazumdar is long-time foreign correspondent based in New Delhi and a keen political observer. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at sudipm@gmail.com)

‘Stealth’ warships to test China’s nerve

Sea Shadow
Sea Shadow is an experimental stealth warship concept of the US Navy, Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) and Lockheed Martin.

THE US is deploying a new generation of high-speed stealth warships to the disputed waters of the South China Sea, in a move that is bound to raise tensions with Beijing.

The vessels, which cost $US440 million ($422m) each, will be deployed in the shipping lanes between Hong Kong and Singapore, where four nations are at odds with China over who owns vast areas of ocean rich in oil and gas.

The ships are designed to fight in shallow waters. They carry three helicopters and special forces units with armoured vehicles that can roll off a ramp into action, while fast gunboats can be launched from the stern.

The latest version, built by General Dynamics, is an aluminium-hulled trimaran, the USS Independence. Launched last year, it is protected by Mk 110 57mm guns made by BAE Systems, plus missiles for air, land and underwater targets.

The warships’ sleek silhouettes reflect their stealth technology, while the stable trimaran design suits the South China Sea, which is swept by typhoons every summer.

Experts say the ships are superior to any known Chinese vessel in their ability to combine anti-submarine, minesweeping, surveillance, reconnaissance and troop deployment missions.

However, they are expensive and controversial.

US legislators have complained about their cost, and some military analysts claim they could be vulnerable to Chinese anti-ship missiles. Nonetheless, they are seen as a potent symbol of US might.

The Sunday Times

Sounding the Alarm About Dirty Bomb Material Falling Into Libyan “Al Qaida” Hands

[I watched the headline change from "IAEA Official" to the current title.]

Nuclear experts warn of Libya “dirty bomb” material

A Libyan rebel walks in the Bab Al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, August 23, 2011. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

By Fredrik Dahl

VIENNA | Wed Aug 24, 2011 8:59am EDT

(Reuters) – A research center near Tripoli has stocksof nuclear material that could be used to make a “dirty bomb,” a former senior U.N. inspector said on Wednesday, warning of possible looting during turmoil in Libya.

Seeking to mend ties with the West, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi agreed in 2003 to abandon efforts to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons — a move that brought him in from the cold and helped end decades of Libyan isolation.

A six-month popular insurgency has now forced Gaddafi to abandon his stronghold in the Libyan capital but continued gunfire suggests the rebels have not completely triumphed yet.

Olli Heinonen, head of U.N. nuclear safeguards inspections worldwide until last year, pointed to substantial looting that took place at Iraq’s Tuwaitha atomic research facility near Baghdad after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

In Iraq, “most likely due to pure luck, the story did not end in a radiological disaster,” Heinonen said.

In Libya, “nuclear security concerns still linger,” the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in an online commentary.

Libya’s uranium enrichment program was dismantled after Gaddafi renounced weapons of mass destruction eight years ago. Sensitive material and documentation including nuclear weapons design information were confiscated.

But the country’s Tajoura research center continues to stock large quantities of radioisotopes, radioactive waste and low-enriched uranium fuel after three decades of nuclear research and radioisotope production, Heinonen said.

Refined uranium can have civilian as well as military purposes, if enriched much further.

“DANGEROUS” MATERIAL

“While we can be thankful that the highly enriched uranium stocks are no longer in Libya, the remaining material in Tajoura could, if it ended up in the wrong hands, be used as ingredients for dirty bombs,” Heinonen, now at Harvard University, said.

“The situation at Tajoura today is unclear. We know that during times of regime collapse, lawlessness and looting reign.”

A so-called dirty bomb can combine conventional explosives such as dynamite with radioactive material.

Experts describe the threat of a crude fissile nuclear bomb, which is technically difficult to manufacture and requires hard-to-obtain bomb-grade uranium or plutonium, as a “low probability, high consequence act” — unlikely but with the potential to cause large-scale harm to life and property.

But a “dirty bomb,” where conventional explosives are used to disperse radiation from a radioactive source, is a “high probability, low consequence act” with more potential to terrorize than cause large loss of life.

“There are a number of nuclear and radiological materials at Tajoura that could be used by terrorists to create a dirty bomb,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, a director at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank.

There was no immediate comment from the IAEA on the Tajoura facility. A document posted on the IAEA’s website said it was a 10 megawatt reactor located 34 km (20 miles) east of the Libyan capital.

The Vienna-based U.N. agency has been involved in technical aid projects in Libya, including at Tajoura.

Heinonen said Libya’s rebel Transitional National Council would need to be aware of the material at Tajoura. Once a transition takes place it should “take the necessary steps to secure these potentially dangerous radioactive sources.”

Fitzpatrick said the looting that occurred at Iraq’s Tuwaitha center “should stand as a lesson for the need for nuclear security precautions in the situation today in Libya.”

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Foreign reporters trapped in Tripoli’s Rixos Hotel

Foreign reporters trapped in Tripoli hotel – media

Foreign reporters trapped in Tripoli hotel

Foreign reporters trapped in Tripoli hotel

© AFP/ IMED LAMLOUM

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi loyalists are keeping 35 foreign journalists inside a hotel in downtown Tripoli, Al Arabiya television said on Wednesday.

The reporters have not been allowed to leave the Rixos Hotel since late Tuesday as the fighting for control of the capital between Gaddafi soldiers and rebels intensified.

According to Al Arabiya, the journalists have been largely deprived of water and electricity, and food is in short supply. They have to wear bullet-proof vests and helmets, as gunfire periodically erupts in the neighborhood.

Rebels claimed on Wednesday they were trying to release the reporters, who had been issued passes by the International Organization for Migration for a possible departure from the Libyan capital by sea.

However, a direct assault on the hotel guarded by a handful of soldiers wearing civilian clothes and armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and grenade launchers could put the lives of the reporters in serious danger.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday called on Libya’s National Transitional Council and opposition forces to ensure the protection of all foreign nationals during the final days of the Gaddafi regime and transition period.

Rebels seized control of much of Tripoli this week, but Colonel Gaddafi’s whereabouts remain unknown. According to a pro-Gaddafi television channel, the 69-year-old promised “martyrdom or victory” in his fight against the rebels and NATO forces.

S. Korea the Middleman Linking American Empire To Uzbekistan

[Imperial penetration of Uzbekistan is taking place out of sight because of S. Korea's efforts on behalf of the US Govt.  (SEE:  New freight terminal launched at Navoi airportUS Gets Uzbek Air Base ; Charter Air Services to Navoi, Uzbekistan).

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (L) and Uzbek President Islam Karimov hold a joint news conference in Tashkent on Aug. 23. (Yonhap)

S. Korea, Uzbekistan sign string of economic cooperation agreements

By Chang Jae-soon

TASHKENT, Aug. 24 (Yonhap) — South Korea and Uzbekistan agreed to jointly explore rare earth resources in the Central Asian nation and signed other economic cooperation agreements Wednesday, a day after sealing a massive deal to develop a gas field and build a related plant.

A total of seven memorandums of understanding were signed during a forum with about 150 business leaders of the two countries that was also attended by President Lee Myung-bak, Uzbek President Islam Karimov and government officials.

Besides the rare earth exploration agreement, the MOUs also included one about textile technology cooperation, which officials said is expected to help boost South Korea’s exports of textile technology and equipment to Uzbekistan, the world’s second-largest exporter of raw cotton.

The agreements were the latest tangible results of Lee’s two-day trip to Tashkent.

On Tuesday, the two countries signed a US$4.1 billion package of deals to develop the Surgil gas field near the Aral Sea and build a gas and chemical plant, the largest-ever contract between South Korea and Uzbekistan since they established diplomatic relations in 1992.

Also signed on Tuesday was a $7 million contract to export an information technology system to modernize Uzbekistan’s stock market.

During the business forum, Lee and Karimov also watched via video link the unveiling of a commemorative stone at the plant construction site in a symbolic commitment to the project. In summit talks on Tuesday, Lee and Karimov pledged to work together closely for its success.

Lee told the business leaders that he hopes that the Surgil and other joint projects will go smoothly so as to contribute to Uzbekistan’s economic development. Lee also praised Karimov for his role in facilitating the country’s high economic growth, officials said.

The Surgil gas field is believed to be holding an estimated 130 billion cubic meters of natural gas (960 billion tons of LNG, or 830 million barrels of oil equivalent). The project calls for developing the field and building a processing plant, and is expected to cost US$4.16 billion in total.

Also on Tuesday, four engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts were signed involving South Korea’s GS Engineering & Construction Corp., Samsung Engineering Co., Hyundai Engineering Co. and Uzbekistan’s state-run gas corporation UNG, and UZKOR, a 50-50 joint venture set up between the two countries to develop the gas field.

South Korea and Uzbekistan have pursued the Surgil project since Korea Gas Corp. (KOGAS) and UNC signed a memorandum of understanding in 2006. The two sides have since established the joint venture UZKOR in 2008, in which a Korean consortium led by KOGAS holds a 50 percent stake.

Uzbekistan was the second leg of Lee’s three-nation tour of Central Asia. He visited Mongolia earlier this week and is scheduled to depart for Kazakhstan later Wednesday.

jschang@yna.co.kr