Thursday News Review

Brega sends Gaddafi’s forces packing

Attacks by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s fighter jets and artillery have been repulsed by the rebels threatening to end his 41-year rule of Libya. While the dictator sounded a defiant note during a public appearance in Tripoli, a surprise assault by his forces using 122mm heavy artillery on the town of Brega was repelled after bloody fighting in the town. And air strikes on an arms dump outside Ajdabiya again failed to ignite the enormous weapons stockpiles hidden in bunkers filmed by Sky News earlier in the week. Eyewitnesses say the battle in Brega was waged across sand dunes on the edge of town and around its university. Col Gaddafi’s air force again struck by dropping bombs on the university, but failed to stem the rebel counter-attack. While their forces have managed to hold off pro-Gaddafi onslaughts so far, opposition leaders continue to plead for outside airstrikes to help them oust the ruler. The question is now whether or not the rebels can turn their counterattack into a more sustained offensive and move the pro-Gaddafi lines further west after days of stalemate between them and the regime. – Sky News

A bloody counter-attack by crazed Colonel Gaddafi flopped yesterday – as the Mad Dog’s forces fled with their tails between their legs. Two hundred troops still loyal to Libya’s tyrant swooped to seize back a key oil port from democracy campaigners – arriving in a convoy of 50 sports utility vehicles. The handful of rebels guarding it were caught napping by the surprise dawn attack and scarpered in terror. Jubilant Gaddafi, 68, later went on state TV to launch another rant at armies of protesters out to end his four decades of iron rule. But his glee at retaking the country’s second biggest oil and gas terminal – Brega – was short-lived. By mid-morning rebel reinforcements were already streaming out of the nearby city of Ajdabiya in pick-up trucks – defying warplanes sent to bomb them. Soon it was the turn of Gaddafi’s men to run for their lives. By mid-afternoon they had retreated to the campus of a university – where they found themselves cornered. Late last night the tyrant was enraged to learn they had all fled. The hapless last stand at the university was summed up by a bomb dropped by one of Gaddafi’s warplanes. It harmlessly hit the nearby beach in an explosion of sand. – the Sun

Off to the polls in Wales and Barnsley

On election night the vast majority of candidates face the very public humiliation of losing, and years of commuting and committees await the winner. But just as there are men and women who feel compelled to jump into the arena and get their name on a ballot, so there are also people who give up their evenings and weekends to take part in even less glamorous campaigns. The issue of whether the Assembly should gain new – strictly defined – powers to make laws in the 20 areas for which it is responsible is not a topic of conversation that you will often hear at the hairdresser’s or during half-time at the Millennium Stadium. But on Thursday, the people of Wales will be asked to vote on this very topic. When just 38.2% of people cast a vote in the 2003 election to decide who they wanted to be in charge of Wales’ education, transport and health services, what chance is there that even this number will take part in the referendum? However, for two women in Wales this is too important a question to be left to the political anoraks and the constitutional obsessives. Neither is a professional politician, and each holds down a demanding day-job. But each cares passionately that you should take a few minutes to think about whether you want the Assembly to become a more powerful institution – and both of them want you to vote on March 3. Rachel Banner, an English teacher and Labour activist from Pontypool, campaigns for a No vote with True Wales. Cathy Owens, programme director for Wales for Amnesty International, is convinced the Assembly is ready for the next stage of devolution and works with Yes For Wales. And they both want you on their sides. – Western Mail

In a newsagent’s in Barnsley town centre, the communist Morning Star is more prominently displayed than in most places nowadays. The last local pit closed 20 years ago, but local boy Arthur Scargill remains a working class hero to some, a generation after the doomed miners’ strike. Yet Labour’s choice to fight the Barnsley Central byelection, Major Dan Jarvis, recently on active service with the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan, is not a random act of postmodern eccentricity. Jarvis’s selection has already had the effect of squashing whatever hopes Nick Griffin entertained of making the contest a BNP showcase. Businessman and writer Dominic Carman (son of George, the legendary QC), who aggressively took on the BNP in Barking, is the genial Lib Dem challenger. Just six votes ahead of the Conservatives last time (both on 17%), one weekend poll suggests the Lib Dems are set to lose second place in Thursday’s poll, both to James Hockney, a Cambridgeshire Tory councillor (he increased his vote in Barnsley East on 6 May) and to Ukip’s Jane Collins. In reality, the weather may well determine the pecking order by boosting – depressing – the expected low turnout. It will take Noah’s flood for Labour to lose, even with a Nottingham-born candidate. Rain may fall on south Yorkshire on polling day, albeit not enough to deny Dan Jarvis his next career move to rough terrain in Westminster. But clean-cut majors, fresh from commanding 1 Para in support of the SAS in Helmand, will not always be on hand to save mainstream party politics from the voters wrath. – the Guardian

Murdoch on the brink

The Government is on the verge of giving the go-ahead to Rupert Murdoch’s controversial attempt to take full ownership of BSkyB in return for the media mogul releasing control of the 24-hour news channel Sky News. News Corporation already owns 39 per cent of Sky, and an announcement could be made as early as today, that its bid for the remainder will not be referred to competition authorities. In the anticipated trade-off, News Corp would relinquish control of Sky News, which would be hived off into a trust with independent directors, along with representatives of News Corp. News Corp would agree to a legally binding contract to provide funding to Sky News over many years. Any decision to give the go-ahead to the Sky deal without referral to the Competition Commission will be attacked by Labour, who will call on Mr Hunt to publish private submissions on the deal from Ofcom and the OFT. Labour is also likely to argue that any promises made by News Corp on the independence of Sky News cannot be trusted. Over the past few days, BSkyB’s share price has risen by more than 5 per cent to over £7.90 – well above News Corp’s initial offer of £7 a share of the stock it doesn’t own. Some in the City think Mr Murdoch will eventually have to offer at least £9 a share if he is to get approval from the majority of other shareholders. News Corp, Ofcom and the OFT declined to comment on the discussions. – the Independent

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is poised to give the go-ahead for Rupert Murdoch’s controversial £7.5billion takeover of BSkyB. A decision could be made today after Murdoch’s NewsCorp reportedly offered to sell its Sky News channel. NewsCorp owns 39% of BSkyB but wants to take over the whole firm in a bid opposed by Trinity Mirror, the publisher of the Daily Mirror, and other media groups. Watchdog Ofcom even said the acquisition could “operate against the public interest” by limiting the range of news providers. Labour peer John Prescott called on the Government to “listen” after 150,000 people signed a petition against it. A spokeswoman for Mr Hunt said: “He has not yet made a decision.” – Daily Mirror

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