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LIBYA

French, British operatives alongside Libya rebels: AFP

French and British operatives have been working with Libyan rebels on their eastern front, where the insurgents scored strategic blows against Muammar Qaddafi's forces, an AFP journalist discovered on Thursday.

The operatives are installed at the rebel command for the eastern front, at the dysfunctional oil refinery in Zuwaytina, about 150 kilometres southwest of the opposition capital Benghazi.  

They are equipped with telecommunications equipment and housed in two shipping containers, within walking distance of the headquarters of Fawzi Bukatif, commander of the eastern front.  

He has been working out of a large office with walls covered in maps and satellite photos.  

There are at least two Frenchmen, and several Britons in mismatched camouflage outfits.  

In late April, Britain, France, Italy, Egypt and the United States announced that they had sent military advisers to the National Transitional Council, the rebels’ de facto government.  

Britain’s Defence Minister Liam Fox said Thursday that NATO is contributing intelligence and reconnaissance equipment to the search for Qaddafi but he refused to confirm reports that Britain’s SAS special forces were working with the Libyan rebels to track down Qaddafi.  

“I can confirm that NATO is providing intelligence and reconnaissance assets to the NTC (National Transitional Council) to help them track down Colonel Qaddafi and other remnants of the regime,” who fled before advancing rebel forces on Tuesday, he told Sky News.  

The Ministry of Defence said Fox was referring to “various assets such as military planes.”  

The Daily Telegraph newspaper, quoting defence sources, said SAS members were sent to Libya several weeks ago and played a key role in coordinating the battle for Tripoli.  

With the majority of the capital now in rebel hands, the SAS had been ordered to switch their focus to hunting down Qaddafi, the Telegraph said.  

They were wearing civilian clothes and armed with the same type of weapons used by the rebel forces, the paper said.  

“We never comment about special forces,” Fox said in a separate interview with BBC radio.  

Asked what role Britain was playing on the ground in Libya, Fox told the BBC: “We have always had some advisors to the NTC (as) we have made clear from the outset, helping them with communications, helping them with logistics, the chain of command and so on.  

“And we would of course want to continue with those relationships.”  

The rebels who overran the Libyan capital and captured Qaddafi’s Bab al-Azizya compound on Tuesday, have offered a $1.7 million reward for the capture of the elusive strongman, dead or alive.  

The Zuwaytina refinery served as the rebel headquarters while directing weeks-long battles for the key oil hub of Brega, 90 kilometres to the east, where the insurgents scored a knockout blow against pro-Qaddafi forces in an operation backed by NATO air strikes.  

After the rebels stormed Tripoli on Sunday, Qaddafi’s forces retreated more than 100 kilometres to the west, stopping at the town of Bin Jawad, 140 kilometers east of the port of Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown and his last remaining bastion.  

Bukatif was preparing on Wednesday to move his operational command from Zuwaytina to the town of Ras Lanouf, about 20 kilometres from Bin Jawad.

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CORRUPTION

‘I’ll smash my accusers’: Sarkozy comes out fighting over corruption charges

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to clear his name on Thursday after being charged for financing his 2007 election campaign with money from late Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, but admitted he was "finished" in politics.

'I'll smash my accusers': Sarkozy comes out fighting over corruption charges
French former president Nicolas Sarkozy speaking during an interview with TF1 on March 22nd. Photo: AFP PHOTO / TF1
“It might take me one, two, 10 years but I'll smash this group (of accusers) and will restore my honour,” he said during an emotion-charged prime-time television interview on Friday evening. “I don't plan to give an inch!”
   
Having already stepped back from a front-line public role in 2016 after he failed with a bid to run again for president, Sarkozy told his interviewer on the TF1 channel that for himself “politics is finished”.
   
In an defiant half-hour performance that saw him shake with indignation at times, Sarkozy frequently referred to his accusers from Kadhafi's regime as “sinister”, “liars” and a “group of killers”.
   
“If you had told me that I would have problems because of Kadhafi, I would have said: 'What are you smoking?'” Sarkozy said at one point, claiming that investigators had not found a single piece of evidence against him.
   
The 63-year-old, who served as French leader from 2007 to 2012, was charged with corruption, illegal campaign financing and concealment of Libyan public money on Thursday evening after two days of questioning in police custody.
 
READ ALSO:
Sarkozy charged with corruption over alleged Gaddafi financing
 
 
Under the French system, charging a suspect means that investigators believe they have strong and corroborated evidence against them, but the defendant can appeal and the case can still be dropped before a trial.
   
The allegations that Sarkozy took money from Kadhafi — whom he welcomed to Paris in 2007 but then helped to topple in 2011 — are the most serious out of several investigations that have dogged him since he left office.
   
“I am hurt deeply as a person, not for me, for my country,” Sarkozy said in his concluding remarks on the TF1 channel. “You can't drag people into the mud because some killers wanted to do it. I can't let them get away with it.”
   
Earlier in a statement released to Le Figaro newspaper, Sarkozy said he had been “living the hell of this slander since March 11, 2011,” when the first allegations against him emerged via Kadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam.
   
He went as far as to blame “the controversy launched by Kadhafi and his henchmen” for his failure to win re-election in 2012, when Francois Hollande, a Socialist, took the presidency.
 
Suitcases of cash?
 
Since 2013, investigators have been looking into claims by several figures in Kadhafi's ousted regime that Sarkozy's campaign received cash from the dictator.
   
In 2011, as NATO-backed forces were preparing to drive Kadhafi out of power, Seif al-Islam told the Euronews network that Sarkozy must “give back the money he took from Libya to finance his electoral campaign”.
   
Sarkozy has dismissed the allegations as the rantings of vindictive Kadhafi loyalists who were furious over the French-led military intervention that helped end Kadhafi's 41-year rule and ultimately led to his death.
   
He has also unsuccessfully sued the investigative website Mediapart for publishing a document allegedly signed by Libya's intelligence chief showing that Kadhafi agreed to give Sarkozy up to 50 million euros ($62 million). The courts have ruled it can be used as evidence.
 
Ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy hauled in by police for grilling... once again
   
Franco-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine also claims to have delivered three suitcases stuffed with a total of five million euros ($6.15 million) to Sarkozy and his chief of staff in 2006 and 2007.
   
Sarkozy lashed out at the arms broker in his television interview and in his statement, arguing his account contained inconsistencies and accusing him of having “highly suspect characteristics and a questionable past”.
   
The legal investigation is also looking into a 500,000-euro foreign cash transfer to Sarkozy's former chief of staff Claude Gueant and the 2009 sale of a luxury villa to a Libyan investment fund.
   
Le Monde newspaper further reported that other former regime officials have stepped forward alleging illicit financing.
 
First ex-president in custody
 
In 2014, Sarkozy became the first former French president to be taken into police custody, over a separate inquiry into claims he tried to interfere in another legal investigation against him.
   
But he is not the first ex-president to be charged with corruption — his predecessor Jacques Chirac was given a two-year suspended sentence in 2011 for embezzlement and misuse of public funds during his time as mayor of Paris.
   
Sarkozy is already charged in two separate cases, one relating to fake invoices devised to mask overspending on his failed 2012 campaign and another for alleged influence peddling.