Updates: #Libya crisis: Air strike at Tripoli airport as thousands flee clashes

The UN has condemned an air strike that closed the only functioning airport in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, on Monday.

Flights at Mitiga International Airport were suspended and passengers were evacuated. No casualties were reported.

The UN blamed the air strike on forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, a commander from the east who is trying to seize the capital.

A spokesman for Gen Haftar’s forces said civilian planes had not been targeted, Reuters news agency reports.

Gen Haftar, who leads the Libyan National Army (LNA), declared an offensive to take control of Tripoli from Libya’s UN-backed government last week.

Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj has accused him of attempting to carry out a coup.

At least 2,800 people have so far fled fighting around Tripoli, the UN says.

The UN also warns that those who remain risk being cut off from vital services because of the clashes.

A crew member stands outside the Mitiga International Airport
A crew member and passenger seen outside the international airport

Libya has been torn by violence, political instability and power struggles since long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in 2011.

International powers have started evacuating personnel from the country in recent days as the situation has deteriorated.

What is the latest on the clashes?

The UN’s Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, said Monday’s air strike violated humanitarian law which prohibited attacks against civilian infrastructure.

Mr Salame said the bombing marked an “escalation of violence on the ground”.

LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari was quoted by Reuters as saying “only a MiG [aircraft] parked at Mitiga airport” had been targeted.

The airport is also the base for a powerful militia, loosely under the control of the government’s ministry of interior, says the BBC’s North Africa correspondent, Rana Jawad.

An older, inactive airport, Tripoli International, has also been a focal point for clashes recent days.

A Member of Misrata forces, under the protection of Tripoli's forces, prepares himself to go to the front line in Tripoli Libya April 8, 2019
Fighters from Misrata are helping defend Tripoli

The Libyan health ministry said at least 25 people had been killed and 80 wounded so far, including civilians and government fighters.

Gen Haftar’s forces said they had lost at least 19 fighters.

The UN appealed for a two-hour truce on Sunday to allow for the evacuations of casualties and civilians, but fighting continued.

Why is there fighting in Libya?

Libya has been a hotbed of unrest since Gaddafi was overthrown eight years ago.

The Government of National Accord (GNA) was created from peace talks in 2015, but has struggled to take control despite UN backing.

Gen Haftar is allied to a rival government in the eastern city of Tobruk which has refused to cede power to Tripoli.

Gen Haftar
Gen Haftar has ordered his forces to advance on Tripoli

The general helped Gaddafi seize power in 1969 before falling out with him and going into exile in the US.

He then returned when the uprising against Gaddafi began and became a rebel commander.

His LNA troops have continued to make advances, seizing the south of Libya and its oil fields earlier this year.

UN-backed talks between the rival governments had been scheduled for 14-16 April to discuss a roadmap for new elections, but it is now unclear if these will still take place.

Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj said he had offered concessions to Gen Haftar to avoid bloodshed, only to be “stabbed in the back”.

What has the reaction been?

Much of the international community, including the US, have called for a ceasefire to hostilities.

“This unilateral military campaign against Tripoli is endangering civilians and undermining prospects for a better future for all Libyans,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday.

The US military is among those to withdraw its supporting forces based in the country, blaming the “complex and unpredictable” situation and “increased unrest” on the ground.

The UN is also due to pull out non-essential staff.

A market in Tripoli.
A market in Tripoli. Residents are said to be stocking up on supplies

Residents of Tripoli have reportedly begun stocking up on food and fuel.

The BBC Best editor Sebastian Usher says some residents fear a long operation such as that which Gen Haftar mounted to take the eastern city of Benghazi from Islamist fighters in 2017.

The rogue general’s defiance suggests that, despite international condemnation of his recent moves, he believes he can only secure a place in Libya’s future political makeup through military means.

Diplomats are worried because the manner and timing of the attack mean he is unlikely to back down unless he is defeated.

Few thought he would go ahead and launch this operation – which he has long threatened to do – because they believed ongoing talks that saw him go from Paris to Palermo and the UAE for more than a year would buy time until a new political settlement was reached through negotiations and an eventual electoral process.

Today, Western nations have few cards to play to de-escalate the violence and once again find themselves in a position where they may need to start from scratch.

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May risks wrath of Tory Brexiters to plead with EU for more time

PM to ask Merkel and Macron for a Brexit extension, promising UK will follow EU rules until departure day

Theresa May will go to Paris and Berlin to Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron for a Brexit extension on Tuesday, promising to be a good member of the European Union until departure day and claiming talks with Labour have a serious chance of reaching a deal.

Before an emergency European summit this week, the prime minister will head to the continent to make the case for extending article 50 only until the end of June. However, she is also being forced to make pledges that the UK would abide by EU rules for however long it is a member, given that a longer delay and participation in European elections now look like the most likely option.

That prospect appeared to be acknowledged on Monday when the Conservative party drew the ire of hard Brexiters – already seeking an indicative confidence vote, in the prime minister – by telling potential local election candidates it is preparing to fight in the European elections in May, and asking potential MEPs to put themselves forward.

With a year-long delay now on the cards, May embarked on a frenzy of last-minute diplomacy on Monday to reassure leaders that the UK would not seek to cause trouble during that period, even though one foot would be out of the door. This would mean a pledge to refrain from holding up processes such as the budget setting and potentially even step back from big decisions that relate to future issues after Brexit.

After speaking to May, Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said: “Crucial to know when and on what basis UK will ratify the withdrawal agreement. A positive decision hinges also on assurances from UK on sincere cooperation.”

His position reflected alarm among European leaders about threats from Eurosceptics to cause problems in Brussels if the UK’s membership is extended, especially if there were to be a new prime minister in favour of a hard Brexit. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory MP who leads the European Research Group, has argued that the UK should “use the remaining powers we have to be difficult” in the event of long delay and claiming that “sincere co-operation so far seems to be a one-way street”.

The prime minister will argue in public that there is no need for a longer extension, as talks with Labour are continuing and due to resume at ministerial level on Tuesday. However, neither side privately believe there will be a deal signed this week.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, revealed that the government had not yet made any offer to sign up to a customs union, making it difficult to see how a deal could be done before the EU summit.

“The government doesn’t seem to be moving off its original red lines,” he said, before further technical talks between officials on Monday evening.

But in a meeting with Ireland’s taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in Dublin, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, signalled that the EU was for its part “happy” to negotiate a customs union. Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, also said the government was still trying to persuade Labour that a customs union was really contained in May’s deal “if only we looked a bit harder”.

Downing Street is understood to have made an offer to enshrine guarantees on workers’ rights and environmental protections into UK law, making it more difficult for a new prime minister to undo them. But the proposals do not approach Labour’s key demand for a permanent customs union.

Sources close to the talks said senior cabinet ministers were divided on whether to make a bolder proposal to Labour to achieve a deal in time, involving some kind of customs arrangement, with some government figures such as David Lidington pushing for more concessions than May is currently willing to offer. However, a Cabinet Office source disputed that characterisation, saying Lidington and others were still in “listening mode” at this stage.

Pro-Brexit Conservative MPs are furious with May over both the prospect of a deal with Corbyn or the alternative of a long delay to Brexit if no agreement is reached. There is still the possibility of cabinet resignations if May is forced down either route.

Backbenchers are plotting fresh attempts to oust May by trying to prove she has lost the support of a majority of her MPs, with the 1922 Committee of backbenchers split on whether to allow an indicative ballot on her leadership.

With Conservative backbenchers already in open revolt, a move towards a deal involving a customs union with Labour support would be politically explosive for May. Boris Johnson, who is one of the favourites to succeed May, has said that “surrender” on a customs union is something that “cannot, must not and will not happen”.

However, the idea of a long delay to Brexit is equally problematic for May, as pro-Brexit cabinet ministers such as Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt have said they cannot support that or participation in the EU elections.

Asked about why May was dashing to Berlin and Paris before the EU summit, her official spokeswoman said: “This is obviously a unique European council specifically focused on Brexit. The PM set out a clear ask in terms of an extension and it is important that she set out the rationale for that.”

Macron, the French president, has been a leading voice among EU leaders demanding that May sets out a clear purpose for an extension, which could be a general election or second referendum. However, other EU leaders have taken a softer line on granting an extension and the final decision is likely to be taken at a “pre-meeting” of six of the most powerful leaders before the summit.

It is still not clear what the extension would be used for, if May fails to find a consensus with Labour or persuade more backbenchers to support her deal, but Conservative MPs would be likely to push for a change of leadership.

May has already asked for an extension to article 50, but a cross-party bill making her legally bound to seek a delay to prevent a no-deal Brexit cleared parliament on Monday, The government has now tabled an amendable motion for debate on Tuesday saying it will seek a delay to Brexit until 30 June.

Websites to be fined over ‘online harms’ under new proposals

Internet sites could be fined or blocked if they fail to tackle “online harms” such as terrorist propaganda and child abuse, under government plans.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has proposed an independent watchdog that will write a “code of practice” for tech companies.

Senior managers could be held liable for breaches, with a possible levy on the industry to fund the regulator.

But critics say the plans threaten freedom of speech.

The Online Harms White Paper is a joint proposal from the DCMS and the Home Office. A public consultation on the plans will run for 12 weeks.

The paper suggests:

  • establishing an independent regulator that can write a “code of practice” for social networks and internet companies
  • giving the regulator enforcement powers including the ability to fine companies that break the rules
  • considering additional enforcement powers such as the ability to fine company executives and force internet service providers to block sites that break the rules

Outlining the proposals, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “The era of self-regulation for online companies is over.

“Voluntary actions from industry to tackle online harms have not been applied consistently or gone far enough.”

Discussing financial penalties on BBC Breakfast, he said: “If you look at the fines available to the Information Commissioner around the GDPR rules, that could be up to 4% of company’s turnover… we think we should be looking at something comparable here.”

What are ‘online harms’?

The plans cover a range of issues that are clearly defined in law such as spreading terrorist content, child sex abuse, so-called revenge pornography, hate crimes, harassment and the sale of illegal goods.

But it also covers harmful behaviour that has a less clear legal definition such as cyber-bullying, trolling and the spread of fake news and disinformation.

It says social networks must tackle material that advocates self-harm and suicide, which became a prominent issue after 14-year-old Molly Russell took her own life in 2017.

After she died her family found distressing material about depression and suicide on her Instagram account. Molly’s father holds the social media giant partly responsible for her death.

After Molly Russell took her own life, her family discovered distressing material about suicide on her Instagram account

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said tech giants and social media companies had a moral duty “to protect the young people they profit from”.

“Despite our repeated calls to action, harmful and illegal content – including child abuse and terrorism – is still too readily available online.

What do the proposals say?

The plans call for an independent regulator to hold internet companies to account.

It would be funded by the tech industry. The government has not decided whether a new body will be established, or an existing one handed new powers.

The regulator will define a “code of best practice” that social networks and internet companies must adhere to.

As well as Facebook, Twitter and Google, the rules would apply to messaging services such as Snapchat and cloud storage services.

The regulator will have the power to fine companies and publish notices naming and shaming those that break the rules.

The government says it is also considering fines for individual company executives and making search engines remove links to offending websites.

Ministers “envisage” that fines and warning notices to companies will be included in an eventual bill.

They are also consulting over blocking harmful websites or stopping them from being listed by search engines.

On the face of it, this is a tough new regime – and ministers have acted upon the demands of charities like the NSPCC which want what they regard as the “Wild West Web” to be tamed.

But a closer look reveals all sorts of issues yet to be settled.

Will a whole new organisation be given the huge job of regulating the internet? Or will the job be handed to the media regulator Ofcom?

What sort of sanctions will be available to the regulator? And will they apply equally to giant social networks and to small organisations such as parents’ message boards?

Most tricky of all is how the regulator is going to rule on material that is not illegal but may still be considered harmful.

Take this example. Misinformation is listed as a potential harm, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock has talked about the damaging effects anti-vaccination campaigners have had.

So will the regulator tell companies that their duty of care means they must remove such material?

The government now plans to consult on its proposals. It may yet find that its twin aims of making the UK both the safest place in the world online and the best to start a digital business are mutually incompatible.

Presentational grey line

What will the ‘code of practice’ contain?

Child surfing internet on a computer tablet in his bedroom

The white paper offers some suggestions that could be included in the code of best practice.

It suggests the spread of fake news could be tackled by forcing social networks to employ fact-checkers and promote legitimate news sources.

But the regulator will be allowed to define the code by itself.

The white paper also says social media companies should produce annual reports revealing how much harmful content has been found on their platforms.

The children’s charity NSPCC has been urging new regulation since 2017 and has repeatedly called for a legal duty of care to be placed on social networks.

A spokeswoman said: “Time’s up for the social networks. They’ve failed to police themselves and our children have paid the price.”

How have the social networks reacted?

Apps on a smartphone

Rebecca Stimson, Facebook‘s head of UK policy, said in a statement: “New regulations are needed so that we have a standardised approach across platforms and private companies aren’t making so many important decisions alone.

“New rules for the internet should protect society from harm while also supporting innovation, the digital economy and freedom of speech.”

Twitter‘s head of UK public policy Katy Minshall said in a statement: “We look forward to engaging in the next steps of the process, and working to strike an appropriate balance between keeping users safe and preserving the open, free nature of the internet.”

TechUK, an umbrella group representing the UK’s technology industry, said the government must be “clear about how trade-offs are balanced between harm prevention and fundamental rights”.

Matthew Lesh, head of research at free market think tank the Adam Smith Institute, went further.

He said: “The government should be ashamed of themselves for leading the western world in internet censorship.

“The proposals are a historic attack on freedom of speech and the free press.

“At a time when Britain is criticising violations of freedom of expression in states like Iran, China and Russia, we should not be undermining our freedom at home.”

And freedom of speech campaigners Article 19 warned that the government “must not create an environment that encourages the censorship of legitimate expression”.

A spokesman said it opposed any duty of care being imposed on internet platforms.

They said that would “inevitably require them to proactively monitor their networks and take a restrictive approach to content removal”.

“Such actions could violate individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and privacy,” they added.

Pakistan accuses India of plotting fresh military attack

Pakistan says it has “reliable intelligence” India is planning a military attack this month, something India dismissed as “war hysteria”.

Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi made the comments on Sunday.

Already tense relations between the two deteriorated this year when Pakistan-based militants killed dozens of Indian troops in Indian-administered Kashmir.

India responded with air strikes on what it said was a militant training camp in Pakistani territory.

Soon afterwards, Pakistan shot down an Indian jet in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and captured its pilot. He was handed back to India days later.

The aerial attacks in February across the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Indian and Pakistani territory in Kashmir were the first since a war in 1971.

Both nuclear-armed nations claim all of Muslim-majority Kashmir, but only control parts of it.

What has Pakistan said?

Tensions seemed to have eased after the clashes, but on Sunday the Pakistani foreign minister said his country had intelligence to suggest an imminent Indian attack.

“There are chances of another aggression against Pakistan and according to our information this action can take place between April 16 and 20,” Mr Qureshi told reporters.

Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi addressing reporters in Multan, April 2019
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the UN Security Council was informed of the alleged plans two days ago

The foreign minister said he made the allegations “with responsibility”, arguing the aggression aimed to raise “diplomatic pressure” against his country.

Pakistan has also summoned India’s deputy high commissioner to protest against what it says are India’s plans.

How did India respond?

Foreign officer spokesman Raveesh Kumar said Pakistan had “a clear objective of whipping up war hysteria in the region”.

“This public gimmick appears to be a call to Pakistan-based terrorists to undertake a terror attack in India,” the spokesman said.

He insisted that Pakistan “cannot absolve itself of responsibility” for the militant car bomb in Kashmir.

India has long accused Pakistan of giving safe haven to militants from the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group, which said it was behind the attack in Pulwama.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has denied his country had any role in the bloodshed. He has offered to cooperate with an investigation if India could provide evidence of Pakistan’s involvement.

India is due to vote in general elections soon, and opponents of Prime Minister Narendra Modi allege he is using tensions with Pakistan to boost support for his party. Mr Modi’s BJP party has strongly denied the suggestion.

Pakistan detained dozens of suspected militants after the Kashmir attack, including relatives of Masood Azhar, the founder of JeM.

The allegations of an imminent Indian attack came on the same day Pakistan released the first batch of about 360 Indian prisoners.

The 100 people set free on Sunday are mostly fishermen who strayed into Pakistani waters.

Since the beginning of the Pakistan-India crisis earlier this year, Pakistani officials have attempted to lay claim to the moral high ground: portraying Indian politicians as cynical warmongers, who pushed for military action against Pakistan in order to cash in on nationalist sentiment during India’s elections (due to start this week).

News of this alleged planned Indian attack comes as authorities in Delhi face increasing pressure from their own public – their claims to have shot down a Pakistani plane, and struck a militant training camp in Pakistan in February look increasingly dubious.

But the Pakistani Foreign Minister didn’t provide any evidence of these alleged Indian plans at his press conference, and the Pakistani Army has so far remained silent on the issue. The remarks also come ahead of the arrival in Islamabad of a number of senior international journalists, many based in India, who were last week invited to come and meet the Pakistani leadership.

The conflict between Pakistan and India is being fought on the airwaves as well as the battlefield, and separating facts from spin is not easy.

Ultra Low Emission Zone: London’s new pollution charge begins

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has come into force in central London.

Drivers of older, more polluting vehicles are being charged to enter the congestion zone area at any time.

Transport for London (TfL) hopes the move will reduce the number of polluting cars in the capital, and estimates that about 40,000 vehicles will be affected every day.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said it was “important we make progress” in tackling the capital’s toxic air.

Jemima Hartshorn, founder of clean air campaign Mums for Lungs, said: “The ULEZ is a fantastic first step forward to tackling London’s dirty air.”

Map: London ULEZ zones

Most vehicles which are not compliant will have to pay £12.50 for entering the area each day, in addition to the congestion charge.

Vehicles can be checked using TfL’s online checker but broadly speaking, those which are non-compliant are:

  • motorbikes that do not meet Euro 3 standards (pre-2007 vehicles)
  • petrol cars and vans that do not meet Euro 4 standards (vehicles pre-2006)
  • diesel cars and vans that do not meet Euro 6 standards (vehicles pre-2015)
  • Buses, coaches and lorries will need to meet or exceed the Euro 6 standards or pay £100 a day
Air pollution: what are the effects on humans?

Anybody who does not pay the charge will face a fine of £160, although a first offence may result in only a warning letter.

The ULEZ is set to be expanded to cover the entire area between the North and South Circular roads in 2021.

TfL estimates the initial scheme will lead to a reduction in toxic emissions from road transport by about 45% in two years.

Mr Khan said London’s air pollution was a “public health emergency” and it was the “poorest Londoners that suffer the worst quality air”.

Figures from City Hall show that more than 60% of all vehicles driving through charging zone in March were already compliant with the new restrictions.

Nearly 27,000 non-compliant vehicles have been taken off of the roads in the last two months, resulting in the total number of cars entering central London drop by 11%.

ULEZ sign
Charges apply for entering the zone seven days a week, 24 hours a day

However, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said many small firms were “very worried about the future of their businesses” as a result of the “additional cost burden”.

Some drivers have also spoken about their anger that governments had previously recommended buying diesel cars which are now being targeted in particular by the charge.

Go Ultra Low, an electric vehicle campaign backed by the government, said: “There has never been a better time for drivers to consider making the switch to electric.

“ULEZ and congestion charge exemptions for electric cars meant “switching can not only save money, but also help make a difference to local air quality.”

Update: #Libya crisis: Fighting near Tripoli leaves 21 dead

Libya’s UN-backed government says 21 people have been killed and 27 wounded in fighting near the capital, Tripoli.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for an immediate halt to the fighting and called for talks.

Rebel forces under Gen Khalifa Haftar have advanced from the east with the aim of taking Tripoli.

Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj has accused him of attempting a coup and says rebels will be met with force.

Among the dead was a Red Crescent doctor killed on Saturday. Gen Haftar’s forces said they had lost 14 fighters.

Earlier the UN appealed for a two-hour truce so casualties and civilians could be evacuated, but fighting continued.

And in a statement, Secretary of State Pompeo said the US was “deeply concerned about fighting near Tripoli” and stressed the need for talks.

“This unilateral military campaign against Tripoli is endangering civilians and undermining prospects for a better future for all Libyans,” the statement said.

International powers have begun evacuating personnel from Libya amid the worsening security situation.

Libya has been torn by violence and political instability since long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in 2011.

What’s the situation on the ground?

Gen Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) forces have been carrying out a multi-pronged attack from the south and west of the city since Thursday.

The UN said its call for a humanitarian truce had been ignored and emergency services said they had not been able to enter the areas where fighting was taking place.

However a UN spokesman told AFP that they were “still hoping for a positive response”.

On Sunday the LNA said it had carried out its first air strike, a day after the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) hit them with air strikes on Saturday.

Fighting has continued around the disused international airport south of the capital that Gen Haftar earlier said his forces had seized.

Forces loyal to the GNA have slowed the advance and on Sunday a GNA spokesman told Al-Jazeera TV that the GNA now intended to “cleanse” the whole of the country.

What evacuations have already taken place?

US Africa Command, responsible for US military operations and liaison in Africa, said that due to the “increased unrest” it had relocated a contingent of US forces temporarily, but gave no further details on numbers.

There were reports of a fast amphibious craft being used in the operation.

India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said its full contingent of 15 Central Reserve Police Force peacekeepers had been evacuated from Tripoli because the “situation in Libya has suddenly worsened”.

A market in Tripoli.
A market in Tripoli. Residents are said to be stocking up on supplies

The Italian multinational oil and gas company, Eni, decided to evacuate all its Italian personnel from the country.

The UN is also due to pull out non-essential staff.

Residents of Tripoli have reportedly begun stocking up on food and fuel. But BBC Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher says many of those near the fighting are remaining in their homes for now, for fear of looting should they leave.

Some fear a long operation, which Gen Haftar mounted to take the eastern city of Benghazi from Islamist fighters.

Who are the opposing forces?

Libya has been wracked by unrest since the overthrow of Col Gaddafi. Dozens of militias operate in the country.

Gen Haftar
Gen Haftar has ordered his forces to advance on Tripoli

Recently they have been allying either with the UN-backed GNA, based in Tripoli, or the LNA of Gen Haftar, a tough anti-Islamist who has the support of Egypt and the UAE and is strong in eastern Libya.

Gen Haftar helped Col Gaddafi seize power in 1969 before falling out with him and going into exile in the US. He returned in 2011 after the uprising against Gaddafi began and became a rebel commander.

The unity government was created at talks in 2015 but has struggled to assert national control.

Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj delivered a TV address on Saturday, saying he would defend the capital.

Mr Serraj said he had offered concessions to Gen Haftar to avoid bloodshed, only to be “stabbed in the back”.

The rogue general’s defiance suggests that, despite international condemnation of his recent moves, he believes he can only secure a place in Libya’s future political makeup through militarily means.

Diplomats are worried, because the manner and timing of the attack means he is unlikely to back down unless he is defeated.

Few thought he would go ahead and launch this operation – which he has long threatened to do – because they believed ongoing talks that saw him go from Paris to Palermo and the UAE for more than a year would buy time until a new political settlement was reached through negotiations and an eventual electoral process.

Today, Western nations have few cards to play to de-escalate the violence and once again find themselves in a position where they may need to start from scratch.

Presentational grey line

Are peace talks planned?

UN-backed talks aimed at drawing up a road map for new elections have been scheduled for 14-16 April in the Libyan city of Ghadames.

UN envoy Ghassan Salame insisted the talks would go ahead, unless serious obstacles prevented it, saying “we won’t give up this political work quickly”.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was in Tripoli just last Thursday to discuss the situation.

But Gen Haftar has said his troops will not stop until they have defeated “terrorism”.

Update: #Libya crisis: Fighting near Tripoli leaves 21 dead

Sudan protest: Clashes among armed forces at Khartoum sit-in

Elements of Sudan’s military have acted to protect protesters in Khartoum after security forces fired tear gas to break up a mass sit-in, eyewitnesses say.

Soldiers tried to chase away pick-up trucks firing tear gas, on the second night of a sit-in protest calling for President Omar al-Bashir to resign.

Protesters sought shelter in a navy facility, a witness said, as divisions among the armed forces were laid bare.

Mr Bashir has so far refused demands to make way for a transitional government.

What happened overnight?

One protester told the BBC’s Newsday that a number of pick-up trucks arrived and began firing tear gas and live ammunition at the thousands of sit-in protesters in the Sudanese capital.

She said the military was at first neutral but then tried to chase the security forces away.

It is unclear who the security forces were but BBC Africa editor Best, says reports indicate they were from the national intelligence service and a state militia.

The eyewitness said the security forces returned for a second attack and people then ran towards a navy facility to seek shelter from the prolonged firing.

Ali Ibrahim, of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which has organised the protest, told EFE news agency that military units had fired into the air to prevent security forces dispersing the sit-in.

There are unconfirmed reports of casualties from the scene. Video on social media showed protesters hiding behind walls as shots ran out.

One resident of a district 5km (3 miles) away told Reuters the tear gas could be felt there.

The sit-in is taking place outside the army HQ and Agence France-Presse quotes witnesses as saying the army has now deployed troops around the building and is erecting barricades in streets near the compound. The army’s intentions surrounding the protest remain unclear.

How did this protest begin?

It started on Friday when protesters descended on the zone outside the HQ to call for Mr Bashir’s removal.

President Omar al-Bashir sitting on a green chair dressed in white at the National Dialogue Committee at his palace in Khartoum on April 5
President Bashir declared a state of national emergency in February

It was the biggest protest against the president since unrest began in December and marked the 34th anniversary of the coup that overthrew the regime of former President Jaafar Nimeiri.

The demonstrators appear to be hoping for an internal coup, pleading with the army command to remove Mr Bashir, who has been in power for nearly 30 years, and open the way for a transitional government.

The police say only one person has died in the latest protests – in Omdurman, Khartoum’s twin city – but social media reports suggest at least five protesters have been killed.

Since the unrest began, Human Rights Watch says protest-related violence has killed 51 people, although officials put the figure at 32, AFP reports.

Why are people protesting?

The protests were originally sparked by a hike in the cost of living but demonstrators are now calling for the president to go.

Sudan’s economy has long been strained since the US imposed sanctions more than 20 years ago, accusing Khartoum of sponsoring terror groups.

Sudan protests: The second day of demonstrations in Khartoum

In December, the government announced the price of fuel and bread would rise. In the year leading up to this, inflation had risen while the Sudanese pound fell rapidly in value.

Mr Bashir’s rule has been blighted by accusations of human rights abuses. In 2009 and 2010, the International Criminal Court (ICC) charged him with counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. A warrant for his arrest has been issued.

In February, it looked like he might give in to protests and step down, but instead Mr Bashir declared a state of national emergency.

He says the protesters have legitimate grievances but should only replace him through elections.

Who are the demonstrators?

The SPA – a collaboration of health workers and lawyers – has been organising the protests.

Sudan protest: Clashes among armed forces at Khartoum sit-in
Sudan protests: “No amount of beating will make us stop”

Doctors have emerged as a leading force and as a result are being targeted by the authorities.

It is estimated that up two thirds of the protesters are women, who say they are demonstrating against Sudan’s sexist and patriarchal society.

Kirstjen Nielsen: US Homeland Security chief resigns

The US Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, who enforced some of President Trump’s controversial border policies, has resigned.

Ms Nielsen called it “an honour of a lifetime” to work in the department.

President Trump tweeted she would be temporarily replaced by Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.

Ms Nielsen was responsible for implementing the proposed border wall and the separation of migrant families.

She gave no reason for her departure in her resignation letter, although she said this was “the right time for me to step aside” and said the US “is safer today than when I joined the Administration”.

The announcement she is leaving her post comes days after the president visited the southern border.

Mr Trump has recently threatened to shut the crossing, but has since backtracked and promised to give Mexico a year to stop drugs and migrants crossing into the US.

Who is Kirstjen Nielsen?

Ms Nielsen first joined Mr Trump’s administration in January 2017 as an assistant to the former Homeland Security chief John Kelly.

She became Mr Kelly’s deputy when he moved to become White House chief of staff, but returned to lead her former department later that year.

Ms Nielsen defended border policies such as holding children in wire enclosures in the face of strong condemnation and intense questioning by Democrats in Congress.

US child migrants: Five things to know

But she brushed off the demonstration, tweeting that she would “work tirelessly” to fix the “broken immigration system”.

Her relationship with Mr Trump is said to have been difficult, although in public she has been loyal to the administration.

Kirstjen Nielsen reportedly had been on thin ice in the Trump administration for more than a year. Her closest ally, former Chief of Staff John Kelly, exited the White House in December. Now, along the annual spring thaw, the ice beneath her has finally cracked.

Or perhaps the homeland security secretary simply reached her limit. The real story will have to wait for the inevitable leaks and insider accounts that spread every time this president makes a staffing change.

What seems clear, however, is that there are conflicts taking place behind the scenes in the White House – conflicts accompanying the president’s increasingly belligerent rhetoric on immigration.

Just two days ago, Mr Trump rescinded his nomination of Ronald Vitiello to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement because, he said, he wanted to go in a “tougher direction”.

Now his homeland security secretary – whom he had in the past viewed as not aggressive enough – is out.

Ms Nielsen’s name will forever be associated with the Trump administration’s family separation border policy that led to massive bipartisan outcry last year. The president eventually backed down from that fight, but these latest moves suggest a more confrontational approach to border security is all but assured.

Presentational grey line

What’s been the reaction?

Members of the Democratic party have already commented on her departure.

Bennie Thompson, Mississippi congressman and Chair of the Comittee on Homeland Security, said Ms Nielsen’s tenure was “a disaster from the start”, while Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey calling the move “long overdue”.

However, he said the fight is “far from over to ensure Trump’s assault on our immigrant community comes to an end”.

But Republican Senator Lindsey Graham praised Ms Nielsen, saying she “did her best to deal with a broken immigration system and broken Congress”.

And Texas congressman Michael McCaul said she was “a principled voice” who “wholly understands the threats we face”.

President Trump insists the situation on the southern border is a crisis and has declared a national emergency, bypassing Congress to secure funds for his border wall plan.

Democrats have protested against the move, and declared the emergency unconstitutional.

Trump: one-year warning for Mexico to stop drugs, people

Brexit cliff edge approaches with no sign of deal

The United Kingdom could be nearing the end of the line on Brexit with a Friday deadline that could see the country crash out of the European Union with no deal.

Prime Minister Theresa May is frantically trying to reach an agreement with the opposition after her divorce plan was voted down three times in the UK parliament.

She admitted on Saturday that there was “no sign (the deal) can be passed in the near future”, appealing to the Labour Party to work with her to find an agreement.

“I think there are some things we agree on … so we’re talking,” she said in a placatory video shared on social media on Saturday. “It’ll mean compromise on both sides.”

But it looks unlikely that her Conservative Party and Labour will be able to nail down a compromise as emotions run high in the bitterly divided nation.

“We haven’t seen anything from government that would suggest that they are prepared to change any part of the deal going forward,” shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told the BBC. “Obviously that is disappointing.”

Some members of the Tory party were furious at Mrs May for opening up to Labour and a potential “soft” Brexit, with two ministers resigning last week and party members taking photos of themselves tearing up their membership cards.

‘FLEXTENSION’

Brexit was supposed to happen on 29 March, but the EU has allowed an extension to Friday 12 April. The UK needs to “indicate a way forward” by this date to avoid leaving the bloc without a deal.

If Mrs May can persuade Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to agree to a broad Brexit vision, she may have a chance of being granted a short extension to 30 June by the EU.

That would mean the UK has to take part in European elections on 23 May, something the Prime Minister was hoping it would not have to do.

If she cannot agree on a plan with Mr Corbyn, only extreme options will remain.

Pro-Brexit protesters wave flags in Parliament Square at the end of the ‘March to Leave’ in London on March 29. Picture: Matt Dunham/AP

Pro-Brexit protesters wave flags in Parliament Square at the end of the ‘March to Leave’ in London on March 29. Picture: Matt Dunham/AP

On Wednesday, Mrs May will meet the European council in Brussels for a second special Brexit summit, and will ask for a 30 June extension.

At the first summit in November, the 27 heads of state agreed to a withdrawal deal — but the UK Prime Minister has failed dismally to have it passed by the UK parliament.

With it looking increasingly unlikely that Mrs May can cajole MPs into anything like an agreement, EU members have proposed a variety of solutions.

European Council President Donald Tusk has suggested a “flextension” — a year-long extension, with the option of the UK leaving the EU earlier if a withdrawal agreement is reached.

But many EU members are nervous about keeping a reluctant UK in the bloc, and fear MPs would simply continue to kick the can down the road.

France wants to get tough, and give the UK just two weeks to find an agreement or leave without a deal.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has reached out to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in a last-ditch attempt to find a compromise. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/AP
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has reached out to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in a last-ditch attempt to find a compromise. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/AP

‘TOXIC RECIPE’

Not everyone thinks a “no-deal” Brexit would be a disaster. Tory MP Andrea Leadsom said it would not be “nearly as grim as many would advocate” and that the bottom line was that Britain is leaving the EU.

Hardline Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg tweeted on Sunday: “If we are stuck in we must use the remaining powers we have to be difficult.”

Mr Rees-Mogg was attacked by Germany’s minister for European affairs Michael Roth, who slammed the Conservative MP’s comment as “out of order”.

Some are hoping the UK may never leave the EU, others insist the government must follow through on the people’s vote, and many are predicting a change of leadership.

The UK could crash out of the European Union without a deal if Parliament cannot come up with a possible plan by Friday’s deadline. Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images
The UK could crash out of the European Union without a deal if Parliament cannot come up with a possible plan by Friday’s deadline. Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Britain has been in meltdown for months now, and with the chaos only worsening, Mrs May’s position looks dire. Last month, she even offered to resign if parliament would pass her deal. It didn’t work.

More than half of Britain thinks the country is “in a state of decline” and more than half said they wanted a “strong leader willing to break the rules”, according to an annual political audit by think tank the Hansard Society.

Just 25 per cent of those surveyed said they had confidence in MPs’ handling of Brexit, and 72 per cent said the system of governing needed “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of improvement.

Hansard Society director Ruth Fox warned the pessimism and lack of trust was a “potentially toxic recipe for the future of British politics”.