Idea Kadhafi will step down ‘ridiculous,’ says son 

The charred hand of a pro-Kadhafi fighter is seen as Libyan rebel fighters buried him in a communal grave near the western gate of Ajdabiya.

Libyan rebels rejected an African Union initiative for a truce accepted by Moamer Kadhafi, and said the only solution was the strongman’s ouster, an idea his son called “ridiculous.”

The rebel rejection came after NATO chiefs warned that any deal must be “credible and verifiable,” and as alliance warplanes were again in action against heavy Kadhafi weaponry pounding Ajdabiya and Misrata.

A delegation of leaders mandated by the African Union (AU) to stop the fighting in Libya arrived late Monday in the Algerian capital for two days of talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, APS news agency reported.

“We are working to find a solution to this complex question and we are continuing our efforts to get out of this crisis,” Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was quoted as saying on arrival.

He was accompanied by Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso, AU Commission chairman Jean Ping and Ugandan Foreign Minister Henry Oryem Okello, APS said.

Kadhafi has accepted a proposed “roadmap” calling for an immediate ceasefire, boosted humanitarian aid and dialogue between the two sides, but the insurgents have rejected the plan, saying Kadhafi must go immediately.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also stuck to US demands for Kadhafi to step down and leave Libya as part of a peaceful transition, but declined to comment on the proposed African Union deal before being fully briefed.

She told a news conference in Washington however that “there needs to be a transition that reflects the will of the Libyan people and the departure of Kadhafi from power and from Libya.”

Kadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam admitted that it was time for “new blood” in Libya, but called talk of his father stepping down “ridiculous.”

“The Libyan Guide (Kadhafi) does not want to control everything. He is at an advanced age. We would like to bring a new elite of young people onto the scene to lead the country and direct local affairs,” he told France’s BFM TV.

“We need new blood — that is what we want for the future — but talk of the Guide leaving is truly ridiculous,” he added.

In Benghazi, rebel leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said the African initiative did not go far enough.

“From the first day the demand of our people has been the ouster of Kadhafi and the fall of his regime,” he said.

“Kadhafi and his sons must leave immediately if they want to be safe… Any initiative that does not include the people’s demand, the popular demand, essential demand, we cannot possibly recognise.”

NATO, meanwhile, said it struck more loyalist targets around Ajdabiya and the besieged port of Misrata on Sunday and Monday, destroying 11 Kadhafi regime tanks and five military vehicles.

The regime warned that any foreign intervention under the pretext of bringing aid into Misrata would be met by “staunch armed resistance,” the official JANA news agency quoted the foreign ministry as saying.

Diplomats in Brussels said on Friday that the EU was gearing up to deploy military assets for a humanitarian mission to evacuate wounded from Misrata and deliver food, water and medicine to the city.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that warplanes will keep pounding Libyan forces as long as civilians are at risk.

“I would also like to stress that the guiding principle for us will be how to implement the UN Security Council resolution fully, that is to protect the civilians against any attack,” he said.

Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, a spokesman for the rebels’ Transitional National Council, welcomed the African Union efforts, but demanded Kadhafi’s overthrow.

“The people must be allowed to go into the streets to express their opinion and the soldiers must return to their barracks,” he told AFP.

“If people are free to come out and demonstrate in Tripoli, then that’s it. I imagine all of Libya will be liberated within moments.”

He also demanded the release of hundreds of people missing since the outbreak of the popular uprising and believed to be held by Kadhafi’s forces.

South African President Jacob Zuma said earlier that Tripoli had accepted the African Union plan for a ceasefire.

“We also in this communique are making a call on NATO to cease the bombings to allow and to give a ceasefire a chance,” he said.

The rebels, however, doubted Kadhafi would adhere to a truce.

“The world has seen these offers of ceasefires before and within 15 minutes (Kadhafi) starts shooting again,” Abdulmolah said.

The rebels have said they would negotiate a political transition to democracy with certain senior regime figures, but only on the condition that Kadhafi and his sons leave Libya.

Meanwhile, Libya’s former foreign minister Mussa Kussa, who is in Britain after defecting from Moamer Kadhafi’s regime, told the BBC Monday that the restive nation could become a “new Somalia” if civil war broke out.

Russia to judge tycoon amid global scrutiny 

Former Yukos oil company chief executive officer Mikhail Khodorkovsky in a Moscow courtroom in November 2010.

A court will Wednesday begin announcing the verdict in the second trial of Russia’s ex-richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a case watched globally as a critical moment in its post-Soviet history.

Khodorkovsky, already serving an eight-year sentence for tax evasion, is on trial on new charges of money laundering and embezzlement that could see the head of the now defunct Yukos oil giant receive another heavy jail term.

Prosecutors have asked for a new 14-year sentence to run simultaneously with the current eight-year jail term so that Khodorkovsky and his co-accused Platon Lebedev, if convicted, would remain behind bars until 2017.

Accusations that his jailing was a political stitch-up masterminded by Vladimir Putin have led Western capitals to view the new trial as a test for Russia’s commitment to democracy under new President Dmitry Medvedev.

“Some are expecting a miracle like an acquittal or an amnesty. But we should be skeptical about the state of our judicial system,” said pro-Kremlin political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky of the Fund for Effective Policy.

“Certain interest groups put pressure on the court and in this case it is hard for the judge to preserve independence,” he told AFP.

In the most controversial legal action of post-Soviet Russia, Khodorkovsky is seen by supporters as a martyr punished for daring to defy president-turned Prime Minister Putin and by officials as a corrupt tycoon who broke the law.

“I am not exaggerating if I say that millions of eyes in the entire country and the world are following this trial,” Khodorkovsky said last month in a dramatic final address to the court before it adjourned for the verdict.

“Everyone understands that your verdict — whatever it is — will form a part of Russian history,” he told judge Viktor Danilkin, who may take several days to read out his judgement.

France’s former foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, British ex-foreign minister David Miliband and European and US lawmakers Tuesday said the consensus was that “their ongoing persecution is unjust and not truly motivated by law.

“This has shaken confidence in the Russian legal system and in your strong will to uphold the Russian constitution,” they said in a letter to Medvedev published in the Financial Times.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are accused of embezzling 218 million metric tons of oil worth over 26 billion dollars — an amount the defense says is absurd as it is equivalent to Yukos’ total oil production from 1998 to 2003.

Witnesses called included former economy minister German Gref, now the head of Russia’s largest bank, and Trade and Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko, whose appearances according to the defence exposed weakness in the charges.

Putin in September even accused Khodorkovsky of having ordered contract killings, allegations that have never even been raised in court, saying “his hands are stained in blood.”

For Khodorkosky’s supporters, Putin and right-hand-man Igor Sechin are the dual nemeses of the fallen tycoon, ordering his 2003 arrest as revenge for financing opposition parties at a critical moment for the authorities.

They had hoped for a change in course when Medvedev, a trained lawyer who promised to end legal nihilism in Russia, came to power in 2008. So far however he has merely indicated justice must take its course.

In his statement final address to the court, Khodorkovsky said he did not want to die in jail but also warned that an acquittal verdict on the Yukos affair was “impossible in a Moscow court”.

Venezuelan missile purchases worried US: WikiLeaks 

People demonstrate in support WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Barcelona.

The United States tried to stop delivery of Russian anti-aircraft missiles to Venezuela in 2009 amid concerns it could pass them on to Marxist guerrillas in Colombia or Mexican drug gangs, The Washington Post said on Sunday, citing diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks.

Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez heads a strongly anti-American government, received at least 1,800 of the SA-24 shoulder-fired missiles from Russia, the Post said, citing UN arms control data.

Secret US cables said Washington was concerned about the acquisition by Caracas of Russian arms, including attack helicopters, Sukhoi fighter jets and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, the newspaper reported.

It quoted a US State Department cable on August 10, 2009 to embassies in Europe and South America as saying Russian arms sales to Venezuela totaled "over $5 billion last year and growing." Concern about Spanish plans to sell aircraft and patrol boats to Venezuela were also cited in the cable.

Russia reported to the U. Register of Conventional Arms earlier this year the purchase totaled 1,800 missiles, the Post said. US Air Force General Douglas Fraser said publicly this year Venezuela could be buying as many as 2,400 of the missiles, the newspaper said.

A missile expert at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, Matt Schroeder, told the Post the Russian missiles are among the world’s most sophisticated and can bring down aircraft from 19,000 feet.

"It’s the largest recorded transfer in the UN arms registry database in five years, at least. There’s no state in Latin America of greater concern regarding leakage that has purchased so many missiles," Schroeder was quoted as saying, in an apparent reference to reports of Venezuelan arms flowing to Colombian guerrillas.

Bush, Obama

The UN database also showed that from 2006 through 2008, Russia delivered 472 missiles and launching mechanisms, 44 attack helicopters and 24 combat aircraft to the OPEC member and major oil exporter, the Post said.

It said the cables showed the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama both tried to stop the arms sales by suggesting to Russia the weapons could end up with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a rebel group that Colombian officials say has received material support from the Chavez government.

"In early March, Secretary Clinton raised the sale with Russian FM Sergei Lavrov," the August 2009 cable says, referring to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russia’s foreign minister, according to the Post.

It reported that a February 14, 2009 cable from Washington to Moscow said FARC computer files seized by Colombia’s army showed Venezuela had tried to help with arms deals for the rebels.

It expressed concern that missiles acquired by the FARC, which is involved in drug trafficking, could end up in the hands of Mexican cartels that "are actively seeking to acquire powerful and highly sophisticated weapons."

Chavez and his government have consistently denied providing help to the FARC.

The August 2009 cable noted Russian ammunition sold to Venezuela was found in FARC hands and US officials raised the issue with Russian diplomats in Washington, the Post reported.

It said an official at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington said envoys there could not respond to the allegations by US officials and that the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry did not respond to phone calls.

The US efforts to prevent the sales of arms by Russia and Spain to Venezuela appeared to strain ties with both countries, the Post reported.

It said an official in charge of disarmament issues at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Anatoliy Antonov, told a US Embassy official in Moscow in 2005 that Washington was trying to restrict Russian access to the arms market.

Spain went ahead with the sale of patrol ships and corvettes, but was blocked by Washington from selling Caracas C-295 transport planes and patrol aircraft because they used sophisticated US electronics, eliciting a complaint by Spain’s foreign minister cited in a cable from the US ambassador in January 2006, the Post said.