- Libya Islamist takes inclusive stance
- Opponents tell Berlusconi to quit over sex scandal
- I made a "moral error", Strauss-Kahn tells France
Posted: 18 Sep 2011 08:48 PM PDT
TRIPOLI(Reuters) - Tripoli's military commander, an Islamist whose rise to prominence is being watched closely by the West, said on Sunday he wanted to build a democratic "civil state" in Libya in remarks that laid out an inclusive political vision after 42 years of despotism under Muammar Gaddafi.
In a Reuters interview, Abdel Hakim Belhadj added that he expected Gaddafi's complete defeat very soon, and that Tripoli was stabilising gradually in a process that would lead eventually to the return to the streets of a police service open to revolutionary fighters who sought to participate in it.
Dressed in military fatigues and seated on a sofa in a reception room at an upscale Tripoli hotel, the soft-spoken Belhadj, in his late 40s, reiterated that he wanted an apology from Britain for what he said was its role in transferring him to Libya under Gaddafi, a move he said violated his human rights.
Asked if there was room for all political shades of opinion in a future Libya, he replied: "Libya will be built by all Libyans."
"They have a big challenge, which is building a democratic and modern, civil state with rules, governed with justice and equality."
"As for the form of the government, this depends on Libyans' choice. Democracy has more than one form. The most important things is whoever rules, rules justly and gives opportunity to the people without dictatorship, even if it is wrapped with democracy."
There have been anxieties among Western officials about apparent rifts between rival factions, including Islamists possibly backed by interests in the Gulf, in the ranks of the country's National Transitional Council (NTC) interim leadership.
These concerns rose after the still unexplained July 28 killing of the military commander of anti-Gaddafi forces, Abdel Fattah Younes, a former top Gaddafi security official, after he was taken into custody by his own side for questioning.
Western concerns about Islamists were exacerbated this month when some of them strongly criticised Libya's interim rulers -- a mainly secular group of technocrats, some of them former Gaddafi officials -- for allegedly behaving in a high handed manner towards Islamists and those of other political persuasions.
The criticisms triggered a bout of recriminations in the anti-Gaddafi camp that worried some Libyans who say the proliferation of guns during the conflict means the country cannot afford to raise the political temperature.
But Belhadj -- not one of those who have voiced strong opinions publicly -- said the outbreak of public ill-feeling was more the result of a desire to air long-suppressed views than any ideological divide.
"What you see now is the eruption of someone who was under oppression," he said.
"Libyans were denied the right to express their feelings ... There was a wall in front of them. When this wall was removed they just started to express themselves. What we care for is what the (ordinary) Libyans are saying what they are thinking of us."
Asked to describe his background he said simply that he was a man who sought an end to Gaddafi's rule.
"NOT A MILITARY MAN"
"We wanted to get rid of this criminal. We stood with whoever was against him ... I'm not a military man, even though I carried some military duties. Gaddafi forced us to resist him, to carry weapons against him."
Belhadj suggested he valued pluralism. "God said to be different is possible, disagreement is possible and it happens. The Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, lived with Christians and Jews and had peaceful dealings with them."
But he said he wanted an apology from British officials he said were responsible for helping his transfer to Libya in 2004.
"I asked for apologies from those people who were involved in giving me up and handling me. This is against human rights for sure."
Belhadj, who spent time with the Taliban in Afghanistan, fled to Iran after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. He later went to south-east Asia where he is believed to have been arrested. He was handed over to Libya in 2004 in circumstances that remain unclear.
"Britain claims it cares for human rights -- what about their handing me over to whoever does not respect human rights. I have proof that they are involved and that's why I asked for an apology."
Britain has said an inquiry into the alleged ill-treatment of suspected terrorists will examine Belhadj's case.
Turning to Tripoli's security, he said he was "securing the capital."
"When we have a structure for the country, its institutions, especially the security institutions and the ministry of interior for example, then we will have a police structure."
"(At that time) we will call the revolutionaries, whoever wants to join those police branches, he will join, or those who don't will go back to their original jobs and hand over their guns that should go back to the weapons stores."
(Editing by Barry Malone)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 18 Sep 2011 08:48 PM PDT
ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faced growing pressure on Sunday to resign after embarrassing new revelations of parties and young women prompted questions about his ability to govern a country rocked by financial crisis.
Italian newspapers in recent days have replaced front page headlines on soaring bond yields and sliding shares with wiretapped chats between Berlusconi and Giampaolo Tarantini, a businessman suspected of providing prostitutes for the premier.
In one excerpt published by the Corriere della Sera daily, Berlusconi boasts of champagne-filled partying till 6:30 am at a Milan nightclub and pocketing eight phone numbers of women. He also brags of fending off a line of 11 girls outside his door and "doing only eight girls, because I couldn't do more".
"If you have a girl -- two girls, three girls -- to bring," Berlusconi is quoted as asking the southern businessman ahead of their next encounter, "please don't get tall ones ... because we are not tall."
In another excerpt reported by major dailies, Berlusconi says "Gianpi" and his female friends could come along on the premier's flight to Milan. Yet another has him joking to a young woman that he is premier in his "spare time".
Opposition parties stepped up calls for Berlusconi to resign after the latest disclosures, saying a country immersed in a debt crisis that threatens the entire euro zone could not afford a premier who governs in his spare time.
"Is there a single reason comprehensible to the world on why Berlusconi should not resign?" Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party said.
Berlusconi loyalists, however, rallied to defend the premier and said he would not bow to demands to step aside.
"Berlusconi does not have any desire to resign," said Angelino Alfano, secretary of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party.
Berlusconi has kept up a defiant attitude through various scandals, blaming his old foes -- "Communist" magistrates and a "leftist" press -- for hounding him mercilessly.
The media mogul maintains his private parties were elegant, convivial affairs and his lawyer says the premier was unaware of any links between Tarantini and prostitution.
Tarantini was arrested with his wife earlier this month on suspicion of extorting money from Berlusconi in return for his silence over the prostitution allegations.
He is also suspected of procuring women for Berlusconi in a bid to curry political favours and win contracts, including some with Italian defence and aerospace giant Finmeccanica.
Finmeccanica has not been charged with wrongdoing and says it has never given contracts to Tarantini or to another businessman who was also named in the wiretaps. Two executives at the firm resigned last week after their names cropped up in published excerpts of wiretaps from judicial probes.
The latest disclosures form an ever-more complicated web of scandal and legal headaches around the beleaguered premier, who has hung on despite a barrage of lurid scandals over the years.
His wife has sought divorce after accusing him of cavorting with minors, while the infamous "Rubygate" affair has seen him accused of paying for sex with a teenage prostitute.
Revelations of "bunga bunga" parties with escorts and showgirls angling for jobs in his media empire have prompted incredulity and sniggers, but failed to push him out of power.
Still, the latest disclosures come at a sensitive time for the premier, who is grappling with slumping ratings, frustrated allies, a financial storm that has driven up Italy's borrowing costs and an unpopular austerity package.
Adding to the confusion, Berlusconi's volatile ally Umberto Bossi on Sunday reiterated a call for the secession of Italy's rich north at a speech to his Northern League party faithful.
Faced with the League's sliding popularity among voters in its northern home base, Bossi has stepped up his familiar rhetoric of a hard-working north paying for a profligate south and expressed doubts about the government seeing out its term.
Still, he has so far remained loyal to Berlusconi in parliament, ensuring the media mogul stays in power.
(Editing by Peter Graff)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 18 Sep 2011 08:48 PM PDT
PARIS (Reuters) - Dominique Strauss-Kahn apologised to his country on Sunday for a sexual encounter with a hotel maid he said was a "moral error" he would regret all his life, and vowed to stay out of the Socialist Party's 2012 election campaign in France.
In his first interview since a New York sex assault case derailed his IMF career and wrecked his chances of running for president, Strauss-Kahn said he was angry with himself for what he called an ill-judged but consensual liaison that had let down his country and hurt his family.
"It was a moral error, and I am not proud of it," Strauss-Kahn said in an interview on TF1's primetime Sunday evening TV news programme, watched by millions. "I regret it, infinitely, and I don't think I am finished with regretting it."
Sounding repentant but also defensive over the rush to judge him as a criminal for a private act he said involved no violence, the former International Monetary Fund head said he had "lost everything" over the incident.
Once seen as the left's best chance of winning power in the April 2012 election, Strauss-Kahn returned to France on Sept. 4 after a New York prosecutor dropped attempted rape charges related to his nine-minute encounter with a Sofitel hotel maid.
Dressed in a dark suit and sober midnight-blue tie, with a tightly buttoned shirt and neatly combed hair, his appearance on Sunday was a far cry from the dishevelled, unshaven prisoner paraded before cameras in handcuffs after his mid-May arrest.
He was also a different man from the poised, erudite IMF chief and ex-finance minister who has addressed the world from hundreds of high-profile podiums over the years.
Dry-mouthed, nervous and clearly uncomfortable, he joined a string of powerful men from former U.S. president Bill Clinton to ex-congressman Anthony Weiner to publicly apologise for a sexual peccadillo. He told TF1 interviewer Claire Chazal, a friend of his wife Anne Sinclair, that he was a changed man.
"I have paid heavily for it. I am still paying for it. I have seen the pain I have caused around me and I have reflected deeply," Strauss-Kahn told Chazal, who also seemed ill-at-ease, keeping her arms tightly crossed throughout the interview.
The attempted rape charges were dropped late in August after doubts arose over the hotel maid's credibility. Strauss-Kahn's lawyers had said from the start that the brusque encounter with the Guinean maid in his luxury suite was sexual but consensual and non-violent.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, added on Sunday that it had not involved any payment.
Rather than gloss over the scandal and focus on restoring his credibility as a world economic authority, as many had expected, Strauss-Kahn spent most of the interview expressing his regret and defending his innocence, speaking only briefly about the euro zone crisis.
"What happened was not only an inappropriate liaison but more than that, an error vis-a-vis my wife, my children, my friends and the French people," he said.
Strauss-Kahn took a strongly defensive tone at times, holding up a copy of the prosecutor's report and stressing that it ruled out signs of force during the encounter, which saw him seek oral sex from the maid moments after she entered his room.
Known in France by his initials DSK, Strauss-Kahn told TF1 he would take time to reflect on what to do with his career.
"I wanted to be a candidate (for the election). I thought I could be useful. All that is behind me," he said. "I don't think it's my role to get involved in the (Socialist) primary."
"I am going first of all to rest, spend time with my loved ones, take time to think. But my whole life has been dedicated to trying to be useful for the public good and we will see."
Strauss-Kahn's arrest set off a wave of muck-raking of his extramarital dalliance and sparked soul-searching in France over a tradition of hushing up sexual escapades by politicians and other public figures.
A group of feminists gathered outside TF1 before the interview, brandishing signs reading "What's seduction for you?" and "DSK, sexual deviant, King of the chimps".
Strauss-Kahn's political allies have cheered his release but the Socialist Party has moved on and is holding its primary selection contest without him. Party leaders have sounded lukewarm over him taking a role in their 2012 campaign.
An Ifop opinion poll in Sunday's Journal du Dimanche newspaper found that 53 percent of those surveyed want Strauss-Kahn to retire from politics. Other polls have found that two-thirds of French want him to stay out of the left's campaign and not hold a position in a future left-wing government.
Strauss-Kahn still faces a civil case in New York over the incident at the Times Square Sofitel, and has been questioned in France over a separate sexual assault accusation dating back to 2003 by a woman 30 years his junior.
(Additional reporting by Leila Abboud; Editing by Myra MacDonald)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
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