Mili­tia hands over air­port to gov­ern­ment

The Washington Times Daily - - World -

BENG­HAZI | A pow­er­ful Libyan mili­tia that took over the coun­try’s busiest air­port when Moam­mar Gad­hafi was de­posed said Thurs­day it will hand over re­spon­si­bil­ity for the air­port to the gov­ern­ment, which is strug­gling to as­sert its con­trol over mili­tias across Libya.

The decision by the Zin­tan forces to re­lin­quish such a pow­er­ful sym­bol, the air­port in the cap­i­tal of Tripoli, rep­re­sents a vic­tory for Libya’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment, which has been heav­ily crit­i­cized for fail­ing to rein in the var­i­ous mili­tia groups op­er­at­ing across the coun­try.

The test, how­ever, will be whether gov­ern­ment forces will be able to en­sure the se­cu­rity and safety of air­port op­er­a­tions.

A spokesman for the Zin­tan mili­tia, Khaled Kar, said Thurs­day that com­man­ders will hand over the air­port to the Min­istry of In­te­rior within a week in an of­fi­cial cer­e­mony. He vowed the han­dover would be per­ma­nent.

“A Strong France” ver­sus “Change Is Now” are slo­gans in the race that pits Mr. Sarkozy against his most se­ri­ous ri­val to date, So­cial­ist can­di­date Fran­cois Hol­lande.

Less than two months re­main be­fore the first round of the elec­tions April 22. A runoff will be held May 6 if no can­di­date re­ceives a ma­jor­ity of the vote in the first round.

Mr. Hol­lande, who en­tered the cam­paign in Oc­to­ber, is ahead in opin­ion polls and is ex­pected to edge Mr. Sarkozy in the first round with 29 per­cent of the vote to the pres­i­dent’s 25.5 per­cent.

In a head-to-head sec­ond-round con­test, Mr. Hol­lande would trounce Mr. Sarkozy, 57 per­cent to 43 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est Ip­sos poll.

Mr. Sarkozy an­nounced his can­di­dacy Feb. 15, a few weeks ear­lier than planned, in or­der to catch up with Mr. Hol­lande.

Mr. Hol­lande, 57, had been the man be­hind the scenes, con­sid­ered as a loyal and con­sen­sual but dull fig­ure of the So­cial­ist Party, which he led for 11 years.

Since his Oc­to­ber vic­tory in the party’s pri­mary elec­tions, Mr. Hol­lande has be­come the So­cial­ist’s cham­pion against Mr. Sarkozy.

La­beled as “soft” and “in­ex­pe­ri­enced” by his con­ser­va­tive op­po­nents, Mr. Hol­lande has never held a gov­ern­ment po­si­tion.

His cam­paign plat­form in­cludes higher taxes, more gov­ern­ment spend­ing, and the cre­ation of 60,000 teach­ing jobs and 150,000 sub­si­dized jobs.

Liar, liar, liar

In the past two weeks, Mr. Sarkozy, re­garded as an ex­cel­lent cam­paigner, has been trav­el­ing around France. He has been ham­mer­ing home his ideas about ref­er­en­dums, ed­u­ca­tion, jobs and glob­al­iza­tion, as well as lash­ing out against his ri­val.

“You’re ly­ing. You’re ly­ing morn­ing and night,” Mr. Sarkozy said when re­fer­ring to Mr. Hol­lande at a cam­paign rally in south­east­ern France.

How­ever, he ran into an an­gry crowd of vot­ers last week in the south­west­ern city of Bay­onne. Demon­stra­tors threw eggs at him, forc­ing Mr. Sarkozy to take refuge in a cafe be­fore riot po­lice es­corted him away from the scene.

Mr. Sarkozy, whom crit­ics call the “bling-bling pres­i­dent,” has been try­ing to dis­tance him­self from ex­trav­a­gant events early in his pres­i­dency.

He cel­e­brated his 2007 elec­tion vic­tory at Paris’ elite Fou­quet’s res­tau­rant with cor­po­rate mil­lion­aires and pop stars in a move that some of his sup­port­ers crit­i­cized as dis­taste­ful and vul­gar.

“If I had to do it again . . . I wouldn’t go back to this res­tau­rant,” he ac­knowl­edged last week in a TV in­ter­view.

Mr. Hol­lande called his apol­ogy “child­ish” but “touch­ing.”

The pres­i­dent and his aides are fully aware that Mr. Sarkozy is fac­ing vis­ceral dis­like from many vot­ers, in­clud­ing some in his own con­ser­va­tive camp. In re­cent polls, 63 per­cent of vot­ers said they pre­fer Mr. Hol­lande.

Mr. Sarkozy is also up against the pop­u­lar far-right Na­tional Front can­di­date Ma­rine Le Pen; cen­trists Fran­cois Bay­rou and Herve Morin; as well as his old neme­sis, Do­minique de Villepin.

Each of them could steal votes away from Mr. Sarkozy.

The Sarkozy cam­paign staff re­mains op­ti­mistic.

“Since he an­nounced his can­di­dacy, his Twit­ter ac­count went from zero to 100,000 fol­low­ers. On Face­book, he’s the most pop­u­lar Euro­pean politi­cian with more than 550,000 ‘ likes,’ ” said Ni­co­las Prin­cen, head of Mr. Sarkozy’s Web cam­paign. “And we only started two weeks ago. This is just the first step.”

But the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign can’t win him back lost pop­u­lar­ity, op­po­nents say.

“It’s an Amer­i­can-style cam­paign. It’s spin. It’s ex­traor­di­nar­ily ar­ti­fi­cial,” said Mr. Hol­lande’s cam­paign man­ager, Pierre Moscovici.

“What Ni­co­las Sarkozy’s try­ing to do is to play on the French am­ne­sia, to lie and to twist the truth . . . but this pres­i­dent won’t man­age to erase his record — the French don’t have am­ne­sia.”

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