- - Tuesday, October 4, 2011

LIBYA

Hundreds flee Gadhafi’s hometown

SIRTE — Libyan revolutionary forces fired rockets into the western half of Moammar Gadhafi’s hometown Tuesday even as hundreds of residents streamed out of the city to flee the fighting.

Anti-Gadhafi fighters launched their offensive against Sirte last month but have faced fierce resistance from regime loyalists holed up inside.

The battle for the city has become the focal point of efforts to rout die-hard supporters of Col. Gadhafi, whose whereabouts remain unknown more than six weeks since Tripoli’s fall.

Nouri al-Naari, a doctor at a field hospital in a mosque on Sirte’s outskirts, said two anti-Gadhafi fighters had been killed and 28 wounded in intense battles in Sirte on Monday.

Amid concerns about a humanitarian crisis, the International Committee of the Red Cross said its staff had crossed the front lines and delivered urgently needed oxygen and other medical supplies to the hospital in Sirte on Monday. They also evacuated a Dutch nurse who had been working there.

Aid workers also are providing food and other items for thousands of people who have fled Sirte.

Libya’s de facto Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said Monday that Sirte, about 250 miles southeast of Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast, must be seized before the transitional leadership can declare victory and set a timeline in motion for elections for a formal government.

Fighting also continues in the town of Bani Walid and in pockets in the south, but Mr. Jibril said Sirte’s capture would mean the main entry ports to the country are secure.

BAHRAIN

Bahrain sentences 26 for protest links

MANAMA — A Bahraini security court has sentenced 26 activists to prison for their part in anti-government protests, raising to 60 the total number convicted over the past two days in stepped-up prosecutions by the Gulf kingdom.

The official Bahrain News Agency said the verdicts Tuesday include members of a Shiite political group, Al Amal, which was banned by the Sunni monarchy after pro-reform protests began in February.

The agency said the sentences range from five to 15 years.

Bahraini forces have made hundreds of arrests as part of crackdowns on members of the Shiite majority seeking greater rights.

EGYPT

Panetta visiting amid spy scandal

CAIRO — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, America’s former top spymaster, is meeting with Egyptian leaders to urge them to release a U.S.-born man being held for allegedly being an Israeli spy.

Egypt has accused Ilan Grapel, 27, of being a Mossad agent - a claim Israel denies.

His detention since June has escalated criticism of Egypt’s military, which took over rule of the country after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February.

The military has pledged to hold presidential elections soon, and Mr. Panetta said he will press Egyptian leaders to move to the elections and quickly put a civilian government in place.

IRAN

University of Texas student on trial

TEHRAN — An Iranian graduate student at the University of Texas went on trial Tuesday in Tehran on charges of having relations with a hostile country and receiving illegitimate funds, his lawyer said.

Omid Kokabee pleaded not guilty to both charges during the trial’s opening session, said the attorney, Saeed Khalili.

He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Iranian authorities arrested the 29-year-old Mr. Kokabee in February at Tehran’s international airport as he was about to get on a flight to return to the U.S. after a short vacation in Iran.

Mr. Kokabee was studying optics in the physics department of the University of Texas and previously had specialized in lasers, one of his academic advisers said.

None of his studies was linked to nuclear applications, said John Keto, chairman of the graduate studies program at the University of Texas at Austin’s department of physics.

Iran’s nuclear program is a major source of tension between Tehran and Washington.

The U.S. and other countries accuse Iran of making all the necessary preparations to build a nuclear arsenal. Iran denies that and says its nuclear work has only peaceful aims, such as power generation.

The student’s lawyer told the Associated Press that he was not permitted to speak with Mr. Kokabee at Tuesday’s trial session.