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LIBYA

Qaddafi son defiant as world leaders meet

Fallen dictator Muammar Qaddafi's son Seif al-Islam vowed that loyalists would fight their rebel enemies to the death, as world leaders gathered in Paris on Thursday to plot Libya's post-Qaddafi future.

Ahead of the conference in the French capital, France said it will unblock €1.5 billion ($2.15 billion) in Libyan assets, while Russia joined dozens of other countries in recognising the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC).  

Seif al-Islam’s message of defiance came as another Qaddafi son, Saadi, expressed readiness to surrender and the rebels announced the capture of former foreign minister Abdelati al-Obeidi.  

“We are fine. The leadership is fine and the leader is fine,” Seif al-Islam told Syria-based Arrai Oruba television, — the crumbling regime’s mouthpiece — in an audio message late on Wednesday.  

“We are happy, we are drinking coffee and tea with our companions and we are fighting.  

“I am talking to you from a suburb of Tripoli. We want to reassure the Libyan people that we are still here. The resistance continues and victory is near.”  

Seif al-Islam warned the rebels against any attack on his father’s hometown of Sirte, the last major centre in loyalist hands.  

“They’re welcome if they think the battle of Sirte will be a walkover. Twenty thousand armed men are in the town and ready” to fight, he said.  

NTC vice chairman Abdel Hafiz Ghogha, told AFP that Seif al-Islam was delusional.  

“Seif al-Islam says that victory is near, but it is the victory of the (rebellion) that is near. He lives in a dream,” Ghogha said in the rebels’ eastern bastion Benghazi.  

Saadi Qaddafi, meanwhile, appeared to express a readiness to surrender.  

“If my surrender stops the spilling of blood, I am ready to give myself up tonight,” he told Al-Arabiya television in an audio interview, adding that he had “no problem” with the rebels ruling Libya.  

Mahdi al-Harati, vice chairman of the rebel military council, told reporters in Tripoli that negotiations had opened on the surrender of Saadi.  

“He is reluctant but, if he wants to surrender, his life will be safe, God willing. If there is an agreement, there will be no problems,” Harati said.  

He also confirmed the arrest of Qaddafi’s foreign minister.  

“Yes, Abdelati al-Obeidi was arrested today,” he said, without elaborating.  

There has been no word from Qaddafi himself since he delivered an audio message on Arrai Oruba after rebels overran his headquarters in Tripoli, describing them as “rats”and urging his followers to fight them in the streets.  

Speculation of his whereabouts range from being holed up in Sirte on the Mediterranean coast, in Bani Walid, a desert town to its southwest, or in the outskirts of the capital.  

Omar Hariri, head of the rebels’ military affairs, told AFP he was “80 percent certain that Qaddafi is still in Libya.”  

“We think he is in Libya,” said Ahmed Darrad, who is charged with overseeing the interior ministry until a new government is elected.  

“It is our right to kill him,” Darrad added.  

Thursday’s conference in the French capital, which will be attended by delegates from 60 countries, is expected to discuss funding for Libya as well as police training and diplomatic recognition for its new rulers.  

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said ahead of the meeting that France is to unblock €1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets for the NTC.  

“There are tens of billions of euros in frozen assets. The Americans have unblocked theirs and the British, French and Germans are doing the same,” he told RTL radio.  

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in Paris to sound out the rebels on what officials in Washington describe as their “enormous” needs as they try to establish a new government in Tripoli.  

The “credibility” of the NTC, the political umbrella for the rebels, rests on such achievements, a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity on Wednesday.  

The NTC is recognised by the United States and dozens of other countries — with Russia joining the ranks on Thursday — as Libya’s interim governing authority, but how well the rebels can bring security to Tripoli and deal with running a country remain in doubt.  

Urgent needs in Tripoli — where Qaddafi forces were overrun in fierce battles more than a week ago — are water, food, fuel and electricity, officials say.  

“The needs are enormous. Qaddafi has left them… with a shattered country,” the US official said.

How to deal with Qaddafi if he is finally captured following a six-month revolt is also a worry for world leaders.  

The “Friends of Libya” conference comes as the rebels try to wipe out the last pockets of resistance from Qaddafi fighters.  

Rebel military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Omar Bani told a news conference in Benghazi that his forces were “ready for a final military battle,” describing a Saturday ultimatum given loyalists to surrender as “zero hour.”

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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.