Nation remembers heroes on 35th Siachen Day

SRINAGAR: ‘Siachen Warriors’ Brigade of Fire and Fury Corps on Saturday celebrated the 35th Siachen Day with traditional solemnity and reverence. Every year, the day honours all the Siachen Warriors who served their motherland while successfully thwarting evil designs of the enemy, over the years.

Brigadier Bhupesh Hada paid homage to the slain personnel at the Siachen War Memorial, in commemoration of the courage and fortitude displayed by troops of the Indian Army in securing the highest and coldest battlefield in the world.

On this day in 1984, the Indian Army secured Bilafond La and other passes on the Saltoro Ridgeline, thus launching ‘Operation MEGHDOOT’.

Since then, it has been a saga of courage and fortitude in the face of a belligerent enemy, arduous terrain and challenging climate conditions.

To this day, the Siachen Warriors continue to guard the ‘Frozen Frontier’ with tenacity and resolve against all odds.

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Siachen Day celebrated

“in commemoration of the courage and fortitude displayed by troops of the Indian Army in securing the highest and coldest battlefield in the world”.

Siachen Warriors Brigade of Fire and Fury Corps celebrated the 35th Siachen Day with traditional solemnity and reverence on Saturday.  Brigadier Bhupesh Hada paid homage to the martyrs at the Siachen War Memorial,

“in commemoration of the courage and fortitude displayed by troops of the Indian Army in securing the highest and coldest battlefield in the world”.

“On this day in 1984, the Indian Army secured Bilafond La and other passes on the Saltoro Ridgeline, thus launching ‘Operation MEGHDOOT,’ the Army statement said.  “Siachen Day every year honours all the Siachen warriors who served their motherland while successfully thwarting evil designs of the enemy, over the years,” the statement added.

Folau sparks more outrage with controversial social media posts

Australia and Waratahs full-back Israel Folau could be set for another showdown with Rugby Australia bosses after sparking outrage with more controversial social media posts on Wednesday.

Folau avoided punishment last year after stating homosexuals should go to “hell” unless they “repent their sins and turn to God”.

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle spoke of the importance of using social media in a respectful manner after meeting the 30-year-old following his initial outbursts.

Folau has delivered another anti-homosexual post and caused a stir with his stance on the Tasmanian Parliament passing a legislation to make gender optional on birth certificates and allow people 16 years and older to legally change gender without parental contest.

The devout Christian posted a message on Instagram that stated “hell awaits” drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters along with “REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES”.

He added: “Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.”

Folau also weighed in with his position on the gender debate.

He tweeted a link to a story on legislation being passed in Tasmania and wrote: “The devil has blinded so many people in this world, REPENT and turn away from your evil ways. Turn to Jesus Christ who will set you free.”

Israel Folau rugby future, news, Wallabies, Australia, World Cup, Stirling Mortlock

Former Wallabies World Cup captain Stirling Mortlock believes Israel Folau has forced Rugby Australia to take action with his latest explosive social media posts.

Mortlock on Thursday questioned what had motivated the Wallabies superstar to double down by airing his controversial views publicly again.

RA’s integrity unit is investigating after Folau took to Instagram to proclaim hell awaits “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”.

The code-hopping superstar faces sanctioning — and possibly even having his multimillion-dollar four-year contract torn up — after the governing body condemned his posts as “unacceptable”.

“It does not represent the values of the sport and is disrespectful to members of the rugby community,” RA said of Folau’s extreme stance against non-Christians.

Folau’s Super Rugby franchise, NSW Waratahs, echoed the RA statement with their own on Thursday morning.

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Folau had already tested RA boss Raelene Castle with a series of homophobic posts last year, most notably one that said “God’s plan for gay people was “HELL”.

The three-times John Eales medallist was warned but not sanctioned by Castle after defiantly threatening to walk away from the game if his beliefs were compromised.

Folau — who turned 30 last week before becoming Super Rugby’s all-time leading try scorer on Saturday with his 60th five-pointer for the NSW Waratahs — had since been largely quiet on social media until Wednesday.

He posted a meme that read: “WARNING Drunks Homosexuals Adulterers Liars Fornicators Thieves Atheists Idolaters, HELL AWAITS YOU. REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES” before adding a Bible verse from Galatians.

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He went on to add: “Those who are living in sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him”.

Folau also took to Twitter to push another issue.

The backline ace retweeted a story headlined “Tasmania becomes first Australian jurisdiction to make gender optional on birth certificates” with the comment:

“The devil has blinded so many people in this world, REPENT and turn away from your evil ways. Turn to Jesus Christ who will set you free.”

Mortlock was puzzled by Folau’s motives and believed the try-scoring ace had forced RA’s hand this time.

“I actually think he’s pushed Rugby Australia into a corner and they have to act,” Mortlock told AAP on Thursday.

MORE RUGBY

TEAR UP HIS $4M CONTRACT: Why hateful, harmful Folau must be sacked

‘EMBARRASSING’: Folau mocked by sports stars, social media

‘UNACCEPTABLE’: Rugby Australia responds to Folau’s anti-gay post

“But you’d love to get to the bottom as to why? Why has he done it?

“Everyone knows his point of view, right? He’s done this a number of times already.

“So it’s more (about) what was the motivations to going again knowing full well that he was probably going to get sanctioned?”

Losing Folau five months out from the 2019 World Cup would leave Wallabies coach Michael Cheika’s plans in tatters.

But that’s now a real possibility after the Wallabies’ biggest sponsors, Qantas and Asics, threatened to walk away last year before Folau was first hauled over the coals.

ISRAEL FOLAU’S SOCIAL MEDIA TIMELINE

September 2017: Folau tweets that he will not support gay marriage. Rugby Australia (RA) says they don’t support Folau and he doesn’t reflect their views.

April 2018: Folau responds to a question on his Instagram post about what God’s plan is for gay people, saying: “HELL…Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”.

April 2018: RA decide not to sanction Folau, who offered to walk away from his contract. RA chief executive Raelene Castle warns all players over their obligation to use social media in a respectful way.

May 2018: Folau shares a video featuring controversial American evangelical preacher David Wilkerson, in which the preacher can be heard to say “rampant iniquity, sexual perversion beyond description” as images of protesters with rainbow flags play in the background.

February 2019: Folau signs a new four-year multimillion-dollar deal, which is believed to contain social media clauses he must observe.

April 2019: Folau tweets a screenshot of a news article about Tasmania making gender optional on birth certificates, adding a message: “The devil has blinded so many people in this world, REPENT and turn away from your evil ways. Turn to Jesus Christ who will set you free.”

April 2019: Folau also shares an image on Instagram saying hell awaits for “homosexuals, fornicators, drunks and atheists”.

April 2019: RA says Instagram post is “unacceptable” and engages its integrity unit.

Originally published as ‘They have to act’: Mortlock’s take on Folau firestorm

‘Extremely naive or stupid’: Israel Folau lashed on Offsiders

Underfire Wallabies star Israel Folau has been labelled either “extremely naive or stupid” after an anti-gay tweet that could see him sacked by Rugby Australia.

Folau and Rugby Australia are headed for a bitter showdown with the embattled Wallabies superstar pledging to tackle the governing body head on in a desperate bid to save his career.

Folau met RA boss Raelene Castle on Friday, with neither party backing down in a feud that threatened to turn ugly.

Folau maintained a stony silence after earlier holding crisis talks amid RA’s threat to tear up his multi-million-dollar contract following his latest attacks on homosexuals.

Speaking on ABC’s Offsiders on Sunday morning, journalist Richard Hinds said RA’s decision was “purely a commercial one”.

“I haven’t seen Israel Folau’s contract, obviously. I don’t know what’s in there,” he said. “It’s interesting how this has instantly lurched into a culture wars issue about free speech.

“To me this is a pure commercial decision they’ve made. If he’s been warned and then endangered their sponsorship by what he’s messaging as an ARU employee, how many employees survive that?

media_cameraFighting for his career.

“Surely he’s not sitting at his keyboard about to push the button or on his phone, not knowing the bomb he’s about to let off. He would have to be extremely naive or stupid not to know that.”

But fellow panellist John Harms said it was important the issue was not oversimplified.

“I heard some commentary yesterday talking about Folau being brainwashed and mumbo jumbo,” he said.

“Whatever your view of it might be, it is his religious position and has to be respected as such.”

But host Kellie Underwood denied it was a religious issue.

“He can claim he’s been discriminated against because of his religion but this, John, is not about religion,” she said.

“No-one is saying you’re out of the game because of your religion. They’re saying you’re out of the game because your opinions that you’re airing in public on social media do not align in any way whatsoever with the values of our code.

“He can hide behind religion all he wants but I think it’s a cop-out.”media_cameraIsrael Folau on Friday.

ISRAEL FIGHTS TO SAVE HIS CAREER

Supported by his professional netballer wife Maria, the three-time John Eales Medallist Folau spent Friday morning at a Sydney cafe with Rugby Union Players’ Association boss Prataal Raj and another RUPA representative plotting his next move.

He refused to talk when approached by a TV reporter, but it’s understood Folau told Raj he wanted to observe his right to challenge RA’s planned sacking at a code of conduct hearing.

Rugby Australia later released a telling joint statement with the NSW Waratahs. “Our joint position regarding Israel Folau is unchanged,” it said. “Following today’s meeting, the two organisations will update their respective boards on the matter to consider next steps.” On Friday evening, the NSW Rugby Union doubled down with its own statement, saying Folau had been stood down.

“NSW Rugby Union has stood down Israel Folau from all player duties with the NSW Waratahs until further notice.” RA and NSW Rugby had on Thursday night said Castle had been unable to “directly contact” Folau to advise him of her intention to terminate his $4 million four- year contract.

Castle later took to Twitter to clarify that she’d been in “in constant contact” with Folau’s manager Isaac Moses in the 24 hours since his latest social media attacks on homosexuals as well as “drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”, who Folau said were all destined for hell.

“He (Moses) did reach Israel, however I was unable to speak with him,” Castle tweeted.

“In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.” Beyond his fierce commitment to his faith, it remains a mystery as to what had motivated Folau to continue his social media outbursts after being warned last year to express his views in a “respectful” manner.

It would seem incomprehensible that the code-hopping ace would risk his career – and the opportunity to win a World Cup this year with the Wallabies – if he didn’t have another playing option.

But with ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie slamming the door shut on Folau attempting to return to the NRL, it appears a move overseas – or retirement – will be his only options if unsuccessful in any appeal against RA’s intention to cut him free.

Beattie said the former Test and State of Origin rugby league star “fails the NRL’s inclusiveness culture”.

Folau’s spectacular fall from grace even had the prime minister weighing in on Friday.

“I thought they were terribly insensitive comments and, obviously, that was a matter for the ARU and they’ve taken that decision,” Scott Morrison said.

“It is important that people act with love, care and compassion to their fellow citizens and to speak sensitively to their fellow Australians.”

Sport Australia boss Kate Palmer commended Rugby Australia’s strong stance against discrimination and vilification and urged all sports to follow suit.

But former Wallabies coach Alan Jones slammed RA’s threat to sack Folau, saying the decision had “completely corrupted” free speech in Australia.

Last chance to save democratic and secular India?

If BJP under Narend­ra Modi comes to power the future of Indian democr­acy and secula­rism will be doomed­

India is the world’s biggest democracy and its secular characteristic will be tested when voters will go to the polls from April 11 to May 19 this year.

If the BJP under Narendra Modi comes to power with a two-thirds majority, the future of Indian democracy and secularism will be doomed because Hindu nationalists will proceed to implement their cherished mission to rewrite the Indian constitution and delete the 42nd Amendment which declares India a democratic and secular state.

On the one hand, there is the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) composed of the BJP, the Shiv Sena and other right-wing political parties and on the other hand there is the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) composed of so-called secular, moderate and progressive political parties and groups pitted against each other in the Indian general elections.

There are also regional parties in West Bengal, UP and some southern states having profound influence in the Indian electoral scene; have been in a bargaining position for long and also act as king-makers.

How different are the NDA and the UPA from each other and unlike 2014 Indian elections when the UPA got only 60 seats with the Indian National Congress (INC) taking 44 seats out of the 545 seats of the Lok Sabha (lower house), will the 2019 elections provide space to those who want to neutralise the deepening of Hindu extremism and militancy in case the NDA wins a two-thirds majority? The world is watching with excitement and anxiety the holding of Indian elections as more than 800 million voters will decide the future of Indian democracy and secularism.

Certainly India is at a crossroads because its image as a democratic secular state is being questioned particularly since 2014 when Narendra Modi assumed the charge of Prime Minister and transformed the BJP from a moderate Hindu to a nationalist and extremist political party striving to declare India a Hindu state.

Senior and accomplished Indian writers like Romila Thapar and Arundhati Roy have for long warned the people of India about the rising tide of Hindu fanaticism and the rigorous campaign launched by the BJP and its sister organisations like the Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and Sang Pariwar of targeting minorities namely the Muslim community.

Will Indian voters, particularly those representing the silent majority, speak up and dislodge the BJP from power or will they join the right-wing bandwagon since the Pulwama episode of February 14 aimed at raising anti-Pakistan hype and charged patriotism?

It seems Indian voters will not give another chance to the BJP in April-May 2019 general elections because of three main reasons. Frist, if the BJP is not booted out of power, it will use all possible means at its disposal to declare India a Hindu state. Even if it fails to get a two-thirds majority and is unable to rewrite the Indian constitution, its electoral triumph with a simple majority will make life miserable for religious minorities.

Religious tolerance, which has been India’s pride and a model of secularism, will diminish for good. As rightly stated by noted Indian writer Amartya Sen that, “the extreme Hindu political movement that spearheaded the present turmoil has gone into demanding an official end to Indian secularism, to be replaced by the recognition of India as a Hindu state.

This proposal, if accepted, would involve a dramatic alteration of one of the basic principles of the Indian constitution, and a radical departure from the idea of India, a pluralist, tolerant and secular India which was central to the Indian nationalist movement and which was reflected in the legal and political structure of independent India.”

Despite the surge of Hindu nationalism in the recent past, majority of Indians wouldn’t like to see their country further plunge into the vicious cycle of hate, intolerance and violence against religious minorities particularly the vulnerable Muslim community.

Second, winning elections, apart from its age-old communal approach, the BJP will sustain its policy of ‘Pakistan-bashing’ for another five years and along with that its resolve to end the special status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir will gain a new impetus.

It means in coming five years, neither will Saarc be revitalised nor regional tensions particularly hostility against Pakistan will be reduced. Is India ready to live in permanent conflict with its only western neighbor, Pakistan, and perpetuate its illegal occupation of J&K with the help of more than half a million of its military force? An Indian voter may have patriotic or nationalistic feelings but certainly will not support eternal hostility with Pakistan and controlling J&K by sheer use of force.

The manifesto issued by the Congress doesn’t advocate hostility with Pakistan or to seek a military solution of J&K. While the Congress considers Jammu & Kashmir an integral part of India it favours a political solution instead of further alienating the people of J&K from India.

Unlike the BJP, the Congress is not in favour of undoing the 42nd Amendment of the Indian Constitution which declares India a democratic, socialist and secular state or deleting Article 35-A from the Indian Constitution which gives J&K a special status.

Finally, the defeat of BJP in coming elections will diminish the threat of India facing communal and political chaos because Narendra Modi and other Hindu nationalist leaders will certainly escalate their drive to transform India as a Hindu state in case of their electoral triumph.

But, it will be a big challenge for the UPA and other anti-BJP political parties if they are able to defeat the NDA because the slogan of Hindutva and India as a Hindu state has permeated deep inside the Indian society and state of India. To reverse the tide of Hindu nationalism and restore the glory of Indian democracy and secularism will certainly be an uphill task.

There is a two-pronged qualitative difference between India and Pakistan. First, unlike Pakistan, which has been under authoritarian-military dictatorship for almost three decades, India has sustained its democratic process. Except for three years, 1974-1977 when emergency was imposed during the tenure of then prime minister Indira Gandhi, there has been no rupture in the Indian political process.

Second, unlike Pakistan which became part of the Western alliance system since the early 1950s and got the status of a frontline state, India pursued a policy of non-alignment. However, India became a beneficiary of disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War when mending fences in Indo-US relations became a reality and Washington, unlike the past, emerged as a major backer of New Delhi against challenging the Chinese power ambitions in Asia. But, the qualitative difference between India and Pakistan is now disappearing with the rise of Hindu nationalism, jingoism and intolerance vis-à-vis religious minorities.

During the election campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is openly praising the military so as to give the impression of developing a close nexus with those whose constitutional domain is to protect India’s external frontiers.

Is India emerging as a deep state where sooner or later military will have a substantial influence on political matters? Alarmists argue that the Shiv Sena’s penetration in the rank and file of India military through its own ‘military academies’ if allowed to continue will transform India as a deep state where democracy, secularism and religious tolerance will be things of the past.

The Indian Army will be transformed as a Hindu army subservient to the BJP and its Hindu extremist allies. In that scenario, one cannot rule out the process of Indian disintegration because a major source of Indian unity has been its strong democratic institutions, its diversity and secular mode of governance.

Conclave on Indian parliamentary election held

IFP Editor, Pradip Phanjoubam during the conclave on “Indian parliamentary election Reflections on Manipur and India’s North East” today evening at Sangai Hall, Hotel Imphal

IMPHAL | Apr 13

Imphal Free Press (IFP) in association with People’s Campaign for Resurgent Manipur (PCRM) organised a conclave on “Indian parliamentary election: Reflections on Manipur and India’s North East” today evening at Sangai Hall, Hotel Imphal.

The conclave was organised as many experts have observed that the ongoing 17th Lok Sabha election to be a crucial one that implicates not only the nature of political culture in the country but also the idea of India itself. Moreover, in many ways, the election is also likely to further shape the roles of national and regional parties in the affairs of the state.

It opened with a video conference with analyst, Prasenjit Biswas, who observed that the 17th Lok Sabha election is a special election as on one hand the multi-cultural, multi lingual features of India has to be protected. On the other hand, people are trying to project India from religious nationalism. “The electoral process itself and the idea of India are in conflict,” he added.

Taking part in the panel discussion on whether the 17th Lok Sabha election is a contestation of two set of ideas, BJP candidate RK Ranjan opined that for the BJP, the ongoing election is towards making a strong nation and oneness of India. “Some people have observed that liberal democracy is losing with the NDA government; however, it is not so as the BJP only wants to make the nation strong. It is the idea of BJP fighting the election,” he stated.

INC candidate, O. Nabakishore stated that he would not limit the election to the contestation of two ideas and added that there are several things apart from that.

While noting that the idea of INC is to save democracy and the Indian constitution, he asserted that the preamble of the Indian constitution clearly defines the idea of India as a nation, adding that the BJP is a right wing conservative party and the INC is a liberal democratic party with socialism in its roots.

“The last resort for any citizen is the judiciary. But even the judiciary is under severe attack in the last five years of the NDA government. Moreover, the media which is promoting the freedom of speech and expression, exchange of ideas and of dissent which is essential for a vibrant democracy is under severe attack,” the INC candidate contended.

Deputy editor of The Wire, Sangeeta Baruah opined that there are different levels and perspectives from where one has to see the ongoing 17th Lok Sabha election. Some people are still caught in the idea of basic services like drinking water, roads, etc. “Of course, there is also the contestation of ideas,” she acknowledged.

In reply to the same query, NEIDP candidate R.K. Anand responded that many of the issues faced by the Indian masses are yet to be addressed as basic necessities like drinking water have not been received by the people adequately all over the country.

He further affirmed that aggressive regionalism is the answer to all the problems. “One has to be violent, assertive and vocal and should address their grievances. If necessary, one should snatch their own rights,” he asserted while adding that Manipur cannot always remain dependent on India.

Editor of IFP, Pradip Phanjoubam stated that collectivism is required for regional parties to become stronger. The people need to have a particular goal and particular ideology, he noted while also maintaining that people are required to be bound together with strong fabric of regionalism as in Mizoram and Nagaland. “The idea of Naga in Nagaland is still very strong; moreover, there is also a need for strong leadership,” he added.

SoO Cadres in Manipur Cast Vote at its Designated Camp

NET Bureau

The Kuki National Front (KNF), the oldest and mother organization of all Kuki militant groups who is an entity of tripartite political dialogue with the centre and state Government under United People’s Front participated in the largest democratic election in the world for the second time yesterday.

Altogether, 41 lucky cadres of KNF cast their votes at Ebenezer Peace Camp, Natheljang in Kangpokpi Sadar Hills using their SoO Identity Card in a postal ballot under the supervision of one nodal in connection with the 17th Lok Sabha Election, 2019 today at around 9 pm.

Well dressed in a camouflage, the eligible 41 KNF cadres approach the polling station open at the camp after a short parade by its commander and cast their votes to mark the third time the SoO group participation in the democratic election.

“I feel very happy that we could participate in the democratic election in the 17th Lok Sabha Election, 2019. We are a revolutionary but still then we have the opportunity to franchise our voting rights by casting votes with my boys here in our designed Ebenezer Peace Camp”, said Rohan, the Joint Monitoring Group member of the outfit while speaking to media persons before they begin casting their votes.

He continued that total cadres we have more than 200 but only 41 cadres has been sanctioned from the Election Commission of India and accordingly we have to cast our votes.

The Kuki National Front who is going to celebrate its 32nd foundation on coming May 18 was founded in the year 1987 at Molnoi village in Myanmar and become the oldest and mother organization of the Kuki militant groups not only in Manipur but the entire North East India.

It was founded by Late Nehlun Kipgen, who died a martyr’s death in the hands of security forces on October 12, 1993, the Kuki National Front also becomes the birth of the Kuki armed movement allegedly due to non-cognigence of the Kukis demand for a separate homeland through petition in the mid sixties by the Kuki National Assembly.

Later, on August 22, 2008, Kuki National Front came into tripartite agreement, i.e. Suspension of Operation (SoO) under the umbrella of United People’s Front (UPF) with the state Government and the Government of India and subsequently the two conglomerates of the Kuki UGs, i.e. UPF and KNO came into Tripartite Talks with the Central and state Government for the first time on 15 June, 2016.

Since signing of the Suspension of Operation (SoO) its [KNF] cadres were residing in their designated Ebenezer Camp, Natheljang and franchise their voting rights when 42 of its cadres cast their votes for the first time in the history of Manipur when underground cadres under the Suspension of Operation (SoO) with Government exercised their voting rights in the 16th Lok Sabha Election in 2014.

US pulls forces from Libya as fighting approaches capital

MAHMUD TURKIA | AFP | Getty Images Forces loyal to Libya’s UN-backed unity government arrive in Tajura, a coastal suburb of the Libyan capital Tripoli, on April 6, 2019, from their base in Misrata.

The United States has temporarily withdrawn some of its forces from Libya due to “security conditions on the ground,” a top military official said Sunday as a Libyan commander’s forces advanced toward the capital of Tripoli and clashed with rival militias.

A small contingent of American troops has been in Libya in recent years, helping local forces combat Islamic State and al-Qaida militants, as well as protecting diplomatic facilities.

“The security realities on the ground in Libya are growing increasingly complex and unpredictable,” said Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of U.S. Africa Command. “Even with an adjustment of the force, we will continue to remain agile in support of existing U.S. strategy.”

He did not provide details on the number of U.S. troops that have been withdrawn or how many remain in the country.

Footage circulating online showed two apparent U.S. Navy transport craft maneuvering off a beach in Janzour, east of Tripoli, sending up plumes of spray as American forces were ferried from the shore.

India also evacuated a small contingent of peacekeepers. The Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, said the country’s 15 Central Reserve Police Force peacekeepers were evacuated Saturday from Tripoli because the “situation in Libya has suddenly worsened” and fighting has moved into the capital city.

The self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter, launched a surprise offensive against the capital last week, a move that could potentially drag the country back into civil war. Libya has been gripped by unrest since the 2011 uprising that overthrew and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. In recent years, the country has been governed by rival authorities in the east and in Tripoli, in the west, each backed by various armed groups.

Fayez Sarraj, head of government in Tripoli, accused Hifter of “betraying” him.

“We have extended our hands towards peace, but after the aggression that has taken place on the part of forces belonging to Hifter and his declaration of war against our cities and our capital … he will find nothing but strength and firmness,” al-Sarraj said Saturday in televised comments.

Sarraj and Hifter held talks in Abu Dhabi in late February, their first confirmed meeting since November 2018, when they agreed that national elections were necessary, according to the U.N.

Hifter is seeking to capture the capital and seize military control of the whole country before U.N.-sponsored talks due to start next week that were designed to set a time frame for possible elections in the oil-rich country.

The U.N. envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame, said the U.N. is determined to hold the planned conference.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Libyan factions to return to negotiations, saying that “there is no military solution to the Libya conflict.”

“We have made clear that we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Fighting was underway Sunday at the international airport, some 24 kilometers (15 miles) from central Tripoli, after Hifter claimed to have seized the area. The airport was destroyed in a previous bout of militia fighting in 2014. Hifter said his forces had launched airstrikes targeting rival militias on the outskirts of Tripoli.

The rival militias, which are affiliated with a U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, said they had also carried out airstrikes, slowing Hifter’s advance.

Armed groups behind the U.N.-backed government of national accord, or GNA, have announced an effort to defend Tripoli, vowing to recapture all areas seized by Hifter’s forces.

Col. Mohamed Gnounou, a spokesman for GNA forces, said in televised comments Sunday that the counteroffensive, dubbed “Volcano of Anger,” was aimed at “purging all Libyan cities of aggressor and illegitimate forces.”

The two sides reported that at least 35 people, including civilians, had been killed since Thursday.

The Health Ministry of the Tripoli-based government said in a statement that at least 21 people, including a physician, were killed and at least 27 wounded. Ahmed al-Mesmari, a spokesman for Hifter’s forces, said Saturday that 14 troops had been killed since the offensive began.

The fighting has displaced hundreds of people, the U.N. migration agency said. The U.N. mission to Libya called for a two-hour cease-fire on Sunday in parts of Tripoli to evacuate civilians and the wounded.

The LNA is supported by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France and Russia. It answers to the authorities based in eastern Libya, who are at odds with the U.N.-backed government.

Saudi-led coalition air strikes hit Yemeni capital as violence flares

SANAA (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen carried out air strikes against two Houthi targets in the capital Sanaa early on Wednesday, its spokesman said.

The coalition said the strikes targeted a Houthi drone-manufacturing plant and a warehouse containing launch pads. Residents said a house was also hit, but no casualties were reported.

Houthi-run Masirah TV said a fire broke out in a plastics factory as a result of air strikes early on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia leads a Western-backed alliance of Yemeni and Arab forces that has been fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in neighbouring Yemen since March 2015, after Houthi forces drove Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile.

They are fighting to restore Hadi’s internationally recognised government.

The Houthis, who say their revolution is against corruption, control Sanaa and most population centers. The strikes hit the al-Jeraf neighborhood in north Sanaa.

The roof was blasted off a large industrial building and machinery was damaged, Reuters footage showed. Bystanders pointed to powder they say would have been turned into plastic in the factory.

Yemen’s war has killed tens of thousands of people – some of them by coalition air strikes – and driven 10 million to the brink of famine. The country is also suffering its third major outbreak of cholera since the conflict began.

A peace process that began with a December agreement has stalled as the United Nations tries to get the parties to pull troops out of Hodeidah, Yemen’s main port, and complete a prisoner exchange.

These confidence-building measures could pave the way for further talks.

Although a ceasefire agreed in December for Hodeidah largely holds, violence continues elsewhere and has escalated in recent weeks.

A blast hit Sanaa near two schools on Sunday, the United Nations and Houthi-run media has said.

“It was almost lunchtime and students were in class. The blast shattered the windows and unleashed a burst of shrapnel and broken glass into the classrooms,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s Middle East head.

Funerals for 12 of the killed pupils, all girls, were held on Wednesday, their coffins carried by a crowd through the streets of Sanaa.

It is unclear what caused the blast and U.N. Yemen aid coordinator Lise Grande called for efforts to pinpoint the circumstances “that led to this tragedy”.

As well as deaths from conflict, Yemen’s war has pushed more than 2 million people from their homes – exacerbating disease, poverty and hunger.

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Aid group Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) said a flare up in fighting in the Abs region in recent days has forced 18,000 from their homes, adding to the tens of thousands already displaced in that area.

“MSF calls on all warring parties to ensure the protection of civilians,” it said in a statement.