Libya To Release Nurses?

Sources in Libya indicate that one of the contentious issues between the EU and Moammar Ghaddafi may be closer to resolution. Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor have sat in prison for years, purportedly for giving HIV to children, a case that outside experts insist got trumped up to cover for Libya’s own incompetent hygiene at its medical facility. Now a financial deal may set them free as soon as next month:

Hopes are rising that five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to death in Libya for allegedly infecting children with the HIV will be released within weeks in a deal involving a multimillion-dollar international fund for healthcare to treat the victims.
European diplomats said last night they were now “cautiously optimistic” that the eight-year saga could be nearing its end, paving the way for improved relations between the EU and the Gadafy regime.
Optimism increased yesterday when the supreme court in Tripoli announced that its final decision on the sentences will be given on July 11. Observers described the session as businesslike and less confrontational than previous occasions, though families of the victims protested outside, holding pictures of their infected children, 56 whom have died.

Even though the six got the death penalty, Ghaddafi has been slow to execute them. He knows that their execution would create another huge rift between Libya and Europe, and Ghaddafi needs better relations with the West. Relations with other Arab countries have soured over the last few years, and the dictator needs friends somewhere.
Europe must feel similarly, spending $50 million to buy Ghaddafi’s friendship, or at least a ransom for the lives of the six. It has a high profile; Tony Blair pressed Ghaddafi on the case during his state visit to Tripoli earlier this year, and some of Europe’s most senior diplomats have worked to set the six free. Bulgaria joined the EU this year and the EU wants to show that it has the clout to protect Europeans abroad.
If all goes well, the court will meet next month and commute the sentences to time served, once the money gets to LIbya. It won’t go to the children who contracted HIV, but rather go to the state for AIDS-awareness programs — or so Libya claims. In any case, it looks like the interests of Libya and Europe have finally converged enough to allow Ghaddafi to finally release the six. Let’s hope that remains the case.

Bill Frist Follow-Up

Yesterday, I interviewed former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist about his new project with ONE Vote ’08 — the effort to push aid for poverty relief into the presidential campaign. Senator Frist spent a half-hour discussing the topic for the benefit of CQ Radio listeners, and I asked him a number of questions about how to avoid yet another Band-Aid application of aid. Based on these questions and similar ones from other interviews, he responded on his blog this afternoon:

Governments must now be accountable for the assistance they receive . . . and when they fail to meet those accountability standards, America shifts resources to the private sector and non-governmental organizations to meet local needs. But those governments that demonstrate the effective use of funds are more likely to receive future assistance – a good incentive to use funding wisely.
And debt forgiveness can enable governments to spend billions of dollars each year on solving problems that would otherwise attract U.S. foreign aid for years to come. In other words, a small investment in debt forgiveness or financial assistance up front can save huge investments down the road.

On the other hand, as David reminded us during the same show, calling literally from the Gambian jungle, what Africa needs is basic infrastructure. They need sewage systems, clean water, and electricity. Aid can provide that, but it has to be a massive, focused program that gives Africa the building blocks of modernity it utterly lacks throughout most of the continent.
Be sure to read all of Senator Frist’s response.

Bill Frist: ONE Vote ’08 Can Make A Difference

I am pleased to invite former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to write a guest post at Captain’s Quarters, as he kicks off the ONE Vote ’08 campaign to help save the poor in Africa. Senator Frist has dedicated himself to humanitarian projects after retiring from the Senate, and he will appear on CQ Radio later today to talk about the ONE Vote ’08 project and how he sees it as part of the solution to the complicated problems in Africa.
More than a decade ago I began traveling to Africa each year to complete medical mission trips in countries such as Sudan and Rwanda. I’ve witnessed the devastating effects of extreme poverty and disease, which is why today I helped kick off the ONE Vote ’08 campaign.
ONE Vote ‘08 is an unprecedented campaign to energize presidential candidates – and voters – concerning issues of extreme poverty and global health. We aim to raise awareness of these issues in the political arena to help deliver meaningful change.
Fighting poverty and improving global health is unquestionably in the strategic interest of our nation. A lack of economic opportunity and poor health conditions promote instability, which opens doors for those who seek to harm America. Helping reverse this course strengthens our image throughout the world and builds goodwill in those places where it’s desperately needed.
The ONE Vote ’08 platform has five central planks:
* provide universal access to primary education for 77 million out-of-school children;
* provide access to clean water to an additional 600 million people in need and basic sanitation to roughly 1.3 million additional people around the globe;
* prevent more than 6 million young children from dying unnecessarily each year from poverty-related illnesses and 400,000 mothers who die in pregnancy-related illnesses each year;
* reduce by half the number of people in the world who suffer from hunger by equipping them with technology and resources to feed their families; and
* save 16,000 lives a day by fighting HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
ONE Vote ’08 is focusing on the four early primary states – Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina – where we’ll run aggressive operations to fully engage each candidate.
Working with more than 100 non-profit and charitable groups and millions of grassroots activists, we’re asking the candidates to support our platform throughout their campaigns. One-on-one briefings have already occurred with many candidates and staff members, and those conversations will remain ongoing.
Africa and other poor nations are an opportunity, not a burden. Simple solutions to these complex problems exist, and technology has made them even more affordable. If we work together to employ them, we can save millions of lives throughout the world.
To learn more about ONE Vote ’08 please click here.

Mugabe Cracks Down On Opposition

Zimbabwe police have arrested “scores” of political opponents of dictator Robert Mugabe and have raided the headquarters of the MDC. The arrests spring from a ban on political assemblies, even though this meeting took place entirely within the offices of the MDC:

Zimbabwe security forces raided the headquarters of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change on Saturday and picked up scores of party youth attending a meeting, a party spokesman said.
“Armed police raided Harvest House (the building housing the MDC headquarters) and arrested about 200 youth and provincial staff who were holding a youth forum,” MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told AFP.
“This was not a street or open air gathering but a meeting in our own party offices to discuss civil issues and we are treated like an illegal or terrorist organisation.”

Earlier, Amnesty International ranked Robert Mugabe in the same class as John Howard of Australia and George Bush. This demonstrates the abject failure of AI to distinguish between political opponents and real monsters. Mugabe has jailed, beaten, and murdered people just for the crime of opposing his policies. Where has that happened in the US? Australia?

Is Gaddafi In A Coma?

The Jerusalem Post reports from a single source that Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi has suddenly slipped into a coma caused by a brain embolism. His family has been called to the hospital, according to the Post, and his prognosis looks murky — perhaps as murky as the source:

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was rushed to the hospital Sunday after a blood clot was discovered in his brain, and is now in a coma, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an claimed.
According to the report, Gaddafi’s children, who reside in Europe, were recalled to his bedside in Tripoli.
“The condition of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is very serious and he was brought unconscious to the hospital,” the agency reported.
The report cites a European source and has yet to be confirmed.

Gaddafi gave the US its biggest foreign-relations victory of the Iraq War when he voluntarily disarmed his nuclear-weapons programs. The US and UK had held negotiations with Libya on this point for months, but Gaddafi suddenly acquiesced shortly after the capture of Saddam Hussein. He told Silvio Berlusconi that he didn’t want to end his days like Saddam Hussein — hiding in a dirt hole only to be hauled out by American troops. His abandonment of nuclear weapons may have made the entire exercise worthwhile, although most have forgotten about the surprising level of sophistication that UN inspectors found during the disarmament process.
If he is as ill as the Post and Ma’an reports, it puts Libya in a precarious position. Gaddafi has had poor relations with the Arab League of late, and the Saudis have been the problem. It’s not altogether sure that a Gaddafi exit would result in a reconciliation; indeed, no one has really considered what comes after Gaddafi. The entire North African situation, as bad as it is already, could rapidly deteriorate as long-oppressed factions fight for power if he dies, or even if he remains incapacitated.
On the other hand, without independent confirmation, this report should be taken with a major grain of salt. Palestinian newspapers are not reknowned for their accuracy or allegiance to truth, and some factions within the PA have a heavy reliance on Saudi support. Ma’an might have indulged some wish fulfillment.
If not, though, we may have a short opportunity to work with Libyans to move their nation even further away from terrorism and oppression. Hopefully the State Department has its fingers on the pulse.
UPDATE: Via Allahpundit, he must be a rather active coma patient:

Libya’s leader Moammar Gadhafi has denied a Palestinian news wire report that he is fatally ill, Italy’s ANSA news agency said Monday.
Gadhafi called Monday to Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi saying he was in good health, the agency reported.

Mogadishu Still Roiled By Insurgents

The fight for Mogadishu goes on, as Islamists and warlords fight the recognized government of Somalia for control of the capital. Just weeks after Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia and put the Islamists to flight, they still face heavy fighting, delaying them from transferring control to the Somali government and a peacekeeping force:

The fighting in Somalia’s ruined capital worsened still further yesterday as Ethiopian troops launched a new offensive against areas held by insurgents.
The number of refugees may now have reached 400,000 – more than one third of Mogadishu’s entire population. But Somalia’s internationally recognised government hailed a victory last night and claimed to be in full control of the city.
“We have won the fighting against the insurgents,” said Ali Mohammed Gedi, the prime minister. “The worst of the fighting in the city is now over.”
He added: “We have captured the stronghold of the terrorists. We will capture any terrorists who have escaped.”

The Telegraph reports that heavy artillery fire can still be heard in the city. The new fighting has killed over 350 people. Even more worrisome are reports that over 400,000 citizens of Mogadishu may now be refugees, or almost a third of its inhabitants. That will create a heavy load for humanitarian relief, even if the end of fighting arrives soon.
The Ethiopians are still waiting for African Union troops to replace them. The AU still has not sent the bulk of the troops it pledged. Last month it sent less than 100 advisors, hardly enough to hold a neighborhood in the war-torn capital. The Ethiopians would like to leave, but they do not want to leave a power vacuum.
Will the AU step up, or will Somalia have to rely on its one neighbor for its protection?

A Week In The Life Of Robert Mugabe

In a hilarious reminder of why I love the British press, the Times of London runs a supposed diary of Zimbabwe’s thugocrat, Robert Mugabe. Hugo Rifkind skewers Mugabe in grand Fleet Street style, and manages to nail South African Mugabe toady Thabo Mbeki along with him. A sample:

Tuesday I cannot see this moustache, although my eyes are not what they were. I would ask my fashionable wife, but she has taken the jumbo jet to Paris to see how many shoes she can get for 20,000 hectares of Matabeleland.
The telephone rings. It is little Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. Although I am careful never to exploit this, I am told he is in awe of me, because I am the original hero of southern African independence. Last month he lent me series five of The West Wing on DVD. He keeps calling to ask for it back. “You can’t have it,” I say.
“I understand,” says Thabo, solemnly. “Might I be permitted to ask why?”
“No,” I say. “Go away.” Little Thabo rings off. Later he rings back to apologise.

The pinnacle of Rifkind’s deliciously nasty satire comes when Mugabe writes that British propaganda consistently portrays Zimbabwe’s abandoned farms, 1800% inflation, and collapsed economy in a bad light. Read the whole thing; I wish I had written it.

Africa To Zimbabweans: Drop Dead

I suppose no one can ever underestimate the dysfunction of African governments, but the support given Robert Mugabe by the Southern African Development Community has to serve as a singular moment of disgrace. The SDAC didn’t just ignore the increasingly brutal methods of Mugabe in clinging to power — they endorsed them:

Zimbabwe’s neighbours fell in behind the brutal regime of Robert Mugabe yesterday and demanded that the West lift all sanctions on his country.
With opposition growing at home and a crumbling economy, pressure was mounting on the heads of surrounding states to urge their friend and comrade to reconsider his position. But in a communiqué issued at the end of what was billed as a make-or-break summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), 14 leaders reaffirmed their solidarity with the veteran President of Zimbabwe.
Their words will come as a crushing blow to campaigners who believed the tide to be turning against his increasingly autocratic 27-year rule.
Mr Mugabe smiled as he pushed past rorters in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, and declared himself satisfied. “Excellent meeting,” he cried, clapping his hands gleefully, before climbing into a waiting limousine.

The SADC claims it pressured Mugabe into beginning a dialogue with his opposition, but Mugabe knows better than that. He just got a blank check from his neighbors to continue his purge. Not only that, but Mugabe got them to fight the Western sanctions on his country for him. It would be difficult to imagine how Mugabe could have gotten more of a free ride from his fellow members, unless they invited him to rule their nations as well.
As the SADC demanded that the West stop picking on poor Robert Mugabe, his goons hauled nine opposition leaders into court to accuse them of — get this — terrorism. They were charged with illegal possession of explosives as part of a conspiracy to set off gasoline bombs, which sounds like they have been charged with buying gasoline; no details on the charges have been brought forth. Their lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the charges, but the court adjourned at night without ever having addressed it.
The moral failure of these African nations is complete. Even South Africa’s Mbeki collaborated in this shameful display, despite his nation’s courageous fight for its own representative government. I recall when people around the world boycotted his nation in solidarity with their struggle for freedom. Now South Africa aids and abets a bloody and incompetent tyrant, even to the point of scolding the same nations that supported his cause for not selling out to a thug. South Africans should feel shame and embarrassment for not assisting their real neighbors — those whom Mugabe has impoverished and oppressed for more than 27 years.

Mugabe Arrests The Opposition

Zimbabwe’s political crisis deepened yesterday after Robert Mugabe started rounding up opposition leaders ahead of an African summit on Mugabe’s dictatorship. Morgan Tsvangirai got arrested just before a scheduled press conference to discuss the political oppression suffered by Zimbabweans:

Forces stormed the offices of the Movement for Democratic Change in downtown Harare to gag its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who was preparing to hold a press conference on the continued violent repression of his party by the Mugabe regime.
Mr Tsvangirai, 50, and other MDC leaders were taken by bus for questioning to an undisclosed location by officials. The approaches to the headquarters had earlier been sealed and tear gas was used to keep people away.
“Tsvangirai and a number of others we have not been able to identify have been taken by police in a bus. We don’t know their whereabouts. We don’t know if they have been charged,” said an MDC spokesman. Police said he was later let go. “We’ve heard he has been released but he is not at home or at the office and he is not reachable on his mobile,” the spokesman said.
The raids came just hours before Mr Mugabe left for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to attend an emergency conference on Zimbabwe’s mounting political crisis hosted by the 18-member Southern African Development Community.

The timing shows how insecure Mugabe feels. The SADC conference came at a bad time for the man who has held power for more than a quarter century, turning a once-fertile land into Africa’s biggest welfare case. His departure, with all of the current unrest, could have turned into an opening for a coup. In order to prevent this, he simply had all of his opponents jailed while he travels to Dar es Salaam.
This puts enormous pressure on the SADC and the African Union to do something about Mugabe. In fact, Mugabe has more or less stuck a finger in the eye of both organizations, but especially the SADC. He effectively told the other African leaders that he has no intention of moderating his dictatorial practices even as they invited him to the meeting to look for some means to restore order and reverse the poverty that Mugabe has caused.
Hopefully, this provocation will finally get regional leaders to do something about Mugabe. The failure of Zimbabwe has created security problems for his neighbors. This latest stunt will make them appear weak and with no influence even in their own back yard. Even his ally, Zambia’s Levy Mwanawasa, has called Mugabe’s stewardship “the Titanic” of regimes in Africa.
If Africa ever wants to distance itself from its colonial past, it has to show that it can resolve these kinds of catastrophes on their own. Ethiopia did this in Somalia. Now the SADC has to show it can meet the challenge and defiance of Mugabe.

Angola To Mugabe’s Rescue

The unrest in Zimbabwe must have rattled Robert Mugabe this week. He has called on one of his few friends in Africa to send shock troops to frighten Zimbabweans back into submission:

About 2,500 Angolan paramilitary police, feared in their own country for their brutality, are to be deployed in Zimbabwe, raising concerns of an escalation in violence against those opposed to President Mugabe.
Kembo Mohadi, Zimbabwe’s Home Affairs Minister, confirmed their imminent arrival, with 1,000 Angolans expected on April 1 and the rest in batches of 500. Angola is regarded as the most powerful military nation in Africa, after South Africa.
The deployment comes amid reports of concern in President Mugabe’s Government over the capability of the country’s own police force to suppress outbreaks of unrest, which are mostly in Harare’s volatile townships.
The townships have been under curfew for about three weeks; one man has been shot dead and hundreds of civilians injured. Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, and about 30 opposition activists are still recovering from beatings they received when police suppressed an attempted rally on March 11.
Mr Mohadi said that he had signed an agreement for the deployment of the Angolan paramilitaries with General Roberto Monteiro, the Interior Minister of Angola, last week.

The current round of trouble started when Mugabe sent his own forces after Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe’s opposition. The MDC held a rally to fire up support for regime change, and Mugabe reacted in character — with brutality. Many of the MDC leadership were arrested, and some beaten. When foreign diplomats objected to the treatment Tsvangirai and others received, Mugabe warned them to keep their mouths shut or face ejection.
Power appears to be slipping from Mugabe’s grasp, a development even Mugabe sees. The act of contracting Angola’s so-called “Ninjas” — they wear all-black uniforms — shows that Mugabe cannot rely entirely on his own security forces. Part of the reason is that so many of the native police have quit recently, disgusted over low pay and poor conditions, which would certainly include assisting in the tyranny of Mugabe.
The regime has weakened significantly, and one wonders why Angola bothers to assist Mugabe. It cannot win Angola much, since Zimbabwe has become so poor under Mugabe’s iron-fisted rule. They belong to the Southern African Development Community, which provides for common defense, among other issues, but the SADC as an organization has rejected calls for assistance from Mugabe. The president of Zambia, another SADC member, referred to Zimbabwe as a “sinking Titanic”, and the SADC’s security protocols only come into effect for external attack, not for internal dissent.
The Ninjas will not save Mugabe for long. Zimbabweans appear to be ready to give Mugabe the heave-ho, and the contract for Angolan mercenary police might be the last straw. The Angolans will need ten days to send the first contingent and more than a month to send them all. We’ll see if they arrive in time to save Mugabe.