The news of the week is Libya; the five month bombing campaign has finally resulted in Gaddafi losing power. It came together with NATO flying over 20,000 sorties and dropping bombs on 7,000 of those sorties – they also enforced a no-fly zone and bombed regime buildings and armoured vehicles that put civilians lives at risk. This was their mandate from UN Resolution 1973 and they have been criticised since April for not sticking strictly to this. They developed a command system with the rebels to order in airstrikes and western forward air controllers played a major part in the campaign. These are rumoured to be French and British Special Forces, and the Qatari Government has funded private contractors that employ former Special Forces soldiers.
The rebel force has been split into three parts; the first group to rise up was from the Nafusa Mountains south of Tripoli. They had limited success until the last two weeks when they got into Tripoli. The second group is the Misrata rebels. They have fought a hard campaign with months of siege in Misrata before breaking out in May and slowly advancing towards Tripoli and the west, linking up with the last group from Benghazi. These were the last to rise up but this was where the regime was weakest and they successfully took the city and moved west.
Months of fighting have culminated in most of Tripoli now coming under rebel control – Gaddafi’s compound has been overrun and only Zawiya, Sirte and areas of the Nafusa mountains remain Gaddafi strongholds. This is where Gaddafi’s tribe is from and therefore where many think he will be. The rumours are that he is in Sirte, his hometown, or in the tribal land. There is currently a manhunt for Gaddafi and a £1m reward has been offered from Benghazi for anyone that kills or captures him. This will include an amnesty for any crime they committed if they are close aides, ministers, soldiers or bodyguards. The rebels have and are continuing to document torture, mistreatment and other practises that may help the International Criminal Court prosecute any Libyan official should they be brought to justice. This has been meticulous in Misrata and the process has now been started in Tripoli. The Benghazi based rebels are also moving to Tripoli in the next few weeks and will take over running the country. The problem with this is that there are three groups of rebels, everyone is well armed so any dispute is likely to turn violent and despite the west contributing law and order advice learnt from Iraq, there is grave concern for a possible collapse in law and order.
On Thursday 25th of August, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and police chiefs met with representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry to discuss how their services were used during the riots and any future actions they could take to help a future situation. The Metropolitan police have said they did think about shutting Twitter down during the riots but after hearing legal advice discovered it was illegal. Since the riots, the Government have mentioned this as a possibility and the police chiefs have said they don’t want this power. The small amount of news that has been announced about this issue since the riots has made the possibility of the Government being able to shut down social networks during crises come closer, as they suggested and pushed the idea of passing legislation to legalise this. Fortunately the representatives and the Government agreed that this power was not needed and they have agreed responses that would help the situation should it happens again. The social networking case may have been helped by Guardian analysis of the 2.5m tweets sent during the riots – most of them were negative reactions, spreading the word about riot locations and organising “The Great Cleanup”. If the Government did want to pursue this, there is a strong chance it would pass as it has support within the coalition (mainly Conservative MPs) although it’s technically illegal under the European Convention of Human Rights which the Conservatives routinely criticise. They would like to replace it with a “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” that would probably have weaker protection. This issue is more a matter of principle, as it concerns how much power the Government has to monitor and limit our freedoms of speech and expression which, thankfully, are still intact. I doubt it will remain so for the next four years.
The Treasury has agreed a deal with Switzerland to end its attractive position as a tax haven and marginally open up its secretive banking system; the system is expected to bring in £5bn a year from its introduction in 2013 and the UK Government has secured an instant £385m down payment. This follows an arrangement with Lichtenstein made in the summer of 2009. It will tax registered UK taxpayer’s bank accounts by 19-34% depending on the age of the account. A further tax will be a tax rate of 27-48% on any income into the bank account of a UK taxpayer in Switzerland. It will also let the UK Government conduct investigations of up to 5,000 people per year using Swiss financial records, and this is bound to be a significant help in many fraud, organised crime and other cases. There is still a way round this, as leaving assets in Lichtenstein banks and telling the UK Treasury will lose them a mere 10% of the amount of tax they would pay in the UK. The other way to avoid tax is to do what Lord Ashcroft did and not be a UK taxpayer – be non-domiciled in the UK and you can leave your assets in Swiss or Lichtenstein bank accounts as before. It will bring some money in which is important in the current situation however they could have gone further and got the assets of any UK non-Dom or anyone that spends more than six months a year in the UK.