Qaddafi Forces Take Strategic Town as Rebels Flee
RAS LANUF, Libya — Forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi retook a strategic oil town and pressed toward the country’s largest refinery Friday, as once-energetic rebel lines began to crumble before an onslaught of air strikes and tank and artillery fire that sent fighters in a chaotic retreat down the Mediterranean coast.
Moises Saman for The New York Times
Plumes of smoke turned clear skies a somber gray after warplanes struck a fuel storage tank at the refinery and fighters lit a dozen tires on fire in a futile attempt to provide cover. Rumors tumbled through dwindling crowds of fighters that spies were among them, and volleys of anti-aircraft fire seemed aimed more at flagging spirits than bringing down the warplanes that sent rebels scurrying for cover behind sand dunes.
The setbacks were the clearest sign yet of the momentum Colonel Qaddafi’s government has seized as it tries to crush the greatest challenge to his nearly 42 years of bizarre rule. Through fear and intimidation, he has silenced protests in Tripoli, ravaged a town near the capital called Zawiyah that brought the revolt to his doorstep and brought himself within striking distance of a series of strategic oil towns in eastern Libya.
“We’re exposed here,” said Yusuf Ibrahim, a lieutenant colonel from Benghazi who deserted to the rebel ranks and tried to coordinate defenses. “There are no trenches. Do you see any trenches here? This is a wide open space. Anything is possible here.”
“This isn’t an army,” he added.
A rebel force that had numbered in the thousands on Thursday had dwindled to the hundreds by the time they gathered in the early afternoon Friday for prayers a little ways from an ammunition dump. Blasts of rocket and tank fire in the distance provided a menacing backdrop to the cadence of prayers. After about 20 minutes, the fighters jumped to their feet, with some shouting “God is great” and “the blood of martyrs will not be shed in vain” as they ran off.
For the first time on Friday, rebel fighters tried to prevent photographers from taking pictures of their positions in what seemed an unusual display of anxiety about Colonel Qaddafi’s intentions. They complained, as they have for days, of their lack of firepower and support from outside the country.
“We withdrew yesterday. Why?” Ahmed Tajjouri, a 25-year-old fighter, said on Friday. “Because we don’t have air defenses, defenses against the sea. What are we going to do if the warplanes come? Tanks are coming, too, and we don’t have those either.”
Reporters were unable to advance beyond the Ras Lanuf refinery toward the town itself. Some rebels said they had set up an outpost closer to the town, about six miles west of here, in what has been to some extent a see-saw conflict.
“The line is going to go back and forth,” said Mohammed Fawzi, a 24-year-old rebel fighter. It was not immediately clear if government troops would seek to press the advantage they clearly gained on Thursday by deploying greater force on wider fronts.
In Tripoli on Friday, government security officers fired tear gas canisters and shots in the air in a pre-emptive move to quash protests by worshipers at a mosque in the rebellious neighborhood of Tajura.
The government also led journalists on a tightly scripted visit to Zawiyah, the city less than 20 miles from Tripoli that the Colonel’s forces seem finally to have wrested from rebel control. On Friday, the thousands of protesters who were seen cheering in the city’s central Martyrs Square last month had been replaced by hundreds of people in green bandanas cheering for Colonel Qaddafi.
Despite the government’s efforts to sanitize the scene, signs of the conflict were everywhere. Apartment buildings around the square were severely damaged, and many of the lamp posts were bent over. The tower atop the mosque had been knocked off, the speaker used for the call to prayer was dangling by a wire. The mosque itself was in ruins, and there was a pile of crumpled up burned out cars and trucks piled behind the rubble.
The 20 graves of fallen rebels had been plowed over. The Qaddafi forces had painted over the rebel flags on the sides of buildings, then hung green and white streamers over several buildings to cover up the repainting or other damage.
In the east, usually ebullient rebels acknowledged withdrawing from Ras Lanuf on Thursday, even as the fledgling opposition leadership in Benghazi scored diplomatic gains with France’s recognition of it as the legitimate government and senior American officials’ promise to talk with its leaders.
Western nations took new steps to isolate the Qaddafi government, but the measures stopped well short of any sort of military intervention and seemed unlikely to be able to reverse the momentum. Nevertheless, President Obama said Friday that the United States and its allies were “tightening the noose” on Colonel Qaddafi and that he is “more and more isolated internationally.”
In magnitude, the quake was the largest ever in Japan and the fifth-strongest on record, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Photos: Scenes from the earthquake
Japan's chief Cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said that an "extremely large number of people'' had been killed, the official Kyodo news agency reported.
The agency said 200 to 300 bodies were found on the beach in Sendai, a city of 1 million people on the northeast coast that was one of the hardest hit. Another 110 people had been confirmed dead as of midnight Japan time, and the toll was sure to rise signficantly as the full extent of the damage was assessed.
The earthquake struck 80 miles offshore at 2.46 p.m. Friday Japan time.
The most immediate concern was the safety of the nation's nuclear plants. Some 3,000 people living near a nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, north of Tokyo, were evacuated because of a reactor cooling malfunction, but the government said that no radiation was leaking. Authorities had turned off 11 power plants and 4 million people were reported to be without electricity.
"We ask the people of Japan to be cautious and vigilant.. We are asking the people of Japan to act calmly,'' Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a somber address to the nation.
Videos of the earthquake
Military aircraft were being dispatched to the coastline to assess the damage. Aerial footage released to Japanese television showed images that looked to be straight out of horror movies. A churning wave of sludge carrying cars, boats and trees was plowing across the low-lying farmland near the coast. The Sendai airport was partially underwater with employees taking refuge on the roof. There were more than 80 fires reported across the country, including several in large oil refineries.
Late Friday, the news service reported that a dam had broken in Fukushima prejecture, washing away homes.
In Tokyo, 240 miles from the epicenter, the physical damage was less severe but the psychological toll was enormous, a jolting reminder of the country's vulnerability. With subways, buses and trains closed, much of the city's workforce took to the streets at night in an attempt to get home. Late into the night, the streets were still filled with people, some of them wearing white hard hats which are given out to state employees. They also carried water and first-aid kits.
"The earthquake wasn't that destructive here in Tokyo, but even then I couldn't use my cellphone, couldn't send e-mails,'' said Megumi Ishii, 26, who was an hour into what she expected would be a six-hour walk home from work. ``What happens if a bigger one hits Tokyo? It was really scary and unsettling.''
Shinji Tanaka, 32, an IT company employee in Tokyo, said he was on the third floor of an office building when the ground shook. "I got under the desk. We followed the orders of the person who had been appointed for this sort of thing. We do drills about once a year. And we have helmets and other goods in the office."
Japan sits on the juncture of four of the Earth's tectonic plates, making it one of the most seismically active countries in the world. It has also spent more money and more time than any other country trying to prepare.
Every year on Sept. 1, the anniversary of the Tokyo earthquake of 1923 that killed more than 140,000 people, much of the population participates in quake drills. Construction standards are also exacting. But there is less that Japan can do gird itself against tsunami waves. Despite an elaborate warning system, the waves Friday traveled too fast for residents to escape from low-lying coast areas.
Why I'm Fighting in Wisconsin
We can avoid mass teacher layoffs and reward our best performers. But we have to act now.
In 2010, Megan Sampson was named an Outstanding First Year Teacher in Wisconsin. A week later, she got a layoff notice from the Milwaukee Public Schools. Why would one of the best new teachers in the state be one of the first let go? Because her collective-bargaining contract requires staffing decisions to be made based on seniority.
Ms. Sampson got a layoff notice because the union leadership would not accept reasonable changes to their contract. Instead, they hid behind a collective-bargaining agreement that costs the taxpayers $101,091 per year for each teacher, protects a 0% contribution for health-insurance premiums, and forces schools to hire and fire based on seniority and union rules.
My state's budget-repair bill, which passed the Assembly on Feb. 25 and awaits a vote in the Senate, reforms this union-controlled hiring and firing process by allowing school districts to assign staff based on merit and performance. That keeps great teachers like Ms. Sampson in the classroom.
Most states in the country are facing a major budget deficit. Many are cutting billions of dollars of aid to schools and local governments. These cuts lead to massive layoffs or increases in property taxes—or both.
In Wisconsin, we have a better approach to tackling our $3.6 billion deficit. We are reforming the way government works, as well as balancing our budget. Our reform plan gives state and local governments the tools to balance the budget through reasonable benefit contributions. In total, our budget-repair bill saves local governments almost $1.5 billion, outweighing the reductions in state aid in our budget.
While it might be a bold political move, the changes are modest. We ask government workers to make a 5.8% contribution to their pensions and a 12.6% contribution to their health-insurance premium, both of which are well below what other workers pay for benefits. Our plan calls for Wisconsin state workers to contribute half of what federal employees pay for their health-insurance premiums. (It's also worth noting that most federal workers don't have collective bargaining for wages and benefits.)
Taxpayers Win in Wisconsin
The monopoly power of government unions can be broken.
Congratulations to Wisconsin Republicans, who held together this week to pass their government union reforms despite unprecedented acting out by Democrats and their union allies. Three weeks ago we described this battle as a foretaste of Greece come to America, but maybe there's hope for taxpayers after all.
The good news is that Governor Scott Walker's reforms have been worth the fight on the policy merits. The conventional media wisdom is that Mr. Walker "overreached" by proposing limits on the ability of government unions to bargain collectively for benefits. But before he offered those proposals, Democrats and unions had refused to support his plan that public workers pay more for their pensions and health care. Only later did they concede that these changes were reasonable and will spare thousands of public workers from layoffs.
The collective bargaining reforms also mean that this won't merely be a one-time budget victory. Government unions know that financial concessions (and layoffs) they agree to during recessions are typically won back when tax revenues increase and the public stops paying attention. They merely need to elect a friendly governor. Mr. Walker's reforms change the balance of negotiating power in ways that give taxpayers more protection.
Unions can still bargain for wages, but annual increases can't exceed the rate of inflation. Unions will also have to be certified each year, which will give their dues-paying members a chance to revisit their decision to unionize. No longer will it be one worker, one vote, once. Perhaps most important, the state will no longer collect those dues automatically and give them to the union to spend almost entirely on politics. The unions will have to collect those dues themselves.
If Mr. Walker's effort can be faulted, we'd say it's for not stressing enough the value of these collective bargaining changes for taxpayers, and how public unions too often end up on both sides of the bargaining table. Instead, he stressed the short-term fiscal benefits of his bill. Yet his changes will pay off in future years in Wisconsin in ways that reforms by GOP Governors in Michigan or even New Jersey will not. A future Wisconsin legislature can change these laws again, but not without a big political reversal.
Magnitude-8.9 Quake, Tsunami Strike Japan
By WSJ Staff
TOKYO—The strongest earthquake to hit Japan in at least 300 years rocked the country's eastern coast on Friday afternoon, triggering a 10-meter (30-foot) tsunami that engulfed cars and buildings in its path in northern Japan, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes and setting off tsunami warnings for 53 countries around the world.
Strong Quake Strikes Japan
Police say 200 to 300 bodies have been found in the city of Sendai, the closest major city to the quake's epicenter, wire reports said. Another 137 were confirmed killed, with 531 people missing, according to the Associated Press. Police also said 627 people were injured, the AP reported.
The quake, one of the five biggest in history with a magnitude of 8.9, inflicted particularly severe damage to areas facing the northern Pacific coast but also caused mass panic around Tokyo, where workers evacuated buildings and power was cut off in 4.1 million households in and around the city. The natural disaster could derail the country's nascent economic recovery and increase Japan's already massive public debt, which is 200% of gross domestic product.
Japan Quake's Effects
The government issued an official emergency at one of the country's nuclear plants after the quake shut down its reactors and caused problems with the cooling system. Officials said there are currently no reports of radiation leakage.
Japan's government ordered the nation's military, police and emergency rescue personnel to head for the affected areas to help with the rescue missions. Some 8,000 personnel from the self-defense forces are being dispatched to the areas, along with hundreds of military aircrafts and ships, Yukio Edano, chief cabinet secretary, said at a press conference just after midnight local time.
The Japanese government is also coordinating with the U.S. forces based in Japan, which has agreed to dispatch the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, carrying fire helicopters, Mr. Edano said.
The central bank quickly announced that it has set up a disaster management team, headed by Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa, and moved to ease any market worries by announcing that it was standing by to supply adequate liquidity to ensure stability in the country's financial markets.
The government will likely first use roughly 200 billion yen ($2.41 billion) in emergency funding left in the budget for the current fiscal year ending this month, several Finance Ministry officials told Dow Jones Newswires. They said the proposed budget for the new fiscal year contains another 350 billion yen for natural disasters and 810 billion yen in emergency funding for economic measures that can be called upon.
A tsunami warning issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii extended across the Pacific Ocean to include Central and South America. The first waves hit Hawaii in the early-morning hours Friday and reached the U.S. West Coast some time later.
Near Tokyo Station, after the quake hit, people streamed out onto the street, where the only option was to walk—buses and taxis weren't available and all trains were halted. Cell phone reception was down, causing long lines to snake around pay phones. The country's ports and airports had shut down and car-navigation systems indicated that almost every entrypoint to the highway was closed. Children walked home from school, some with protective head gear. People were huddled around televisions, trying to grasp the extent of the damage in Japan.
Colliding plates under earth's surface make Asia Pacific one of the most tectonically active region on earth.
Your Tsunami Photos
Were you there when the earthquake hit Japan, or were you among those evacuated along Pacific coasts? Email us your photos of the damage, at email@example.com.
Akira Nomiya, 74, in Tokyo from Sapporo to visit his grandchildren, said the quake hit right after he stepped out of a monorail. He had walked an hour and half to reach Tokyo station. "It shook so badly that I couldn't keep standing as I stepped out of the monorail. People were just hanging onto the wall or sitting down on the ground. Girls were screaming on the platform."
"This is the worst quake I've ever felt that was based so far away from Tokyo," said Kiyomi Suzuki, 69 years old, who has lived in the capital city all her life.
Disastrous Japan Earthquakes
See some of the most powerful earthquakes to have hit the island nation.
"A screen fell off my desk," said Varun Nayyar, an associate director at UBS Securities Japan, who hastily evacuated his building. "I don't understand why more people weren't leaving the building. I'm from India, and if an earthquake of this strength had hit there, a lot of buildings would have collapsed."
As helicopters buzzed overhead, a group of Chinese tourists huddled in front of a gate at the outer moat of the Imperial Palace, in Tokyo's Otemachi business district.
Amid the damage, some signs of normalcy returned. In Nihonbashi district of central Tokyo district, more than 100 people were waiting for buses, and TV broadcasts reported that the subway had restarted.
The U.S. military said about 12 commercial airlines were diverted to Yokota Airbase and officials were assessing how military assets could best be deployed to help. The official said there were no reported injuries to U.S. forces in Japan.
President Barack Obama said the U.S. stands ready to assist Japan. "The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable, and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they overcome this tragedy," Mr. Obama said.
China's government also offered support to Japan, with Premier Wen Jiabao expressing "deep sympathy and solicitude to the Japanese government and the people" and telling Prime Minister Naoto Kan that China is willing to offer aid.
Mr. Kan, embroiled in a political funding scandal that could derail his premiership, appeared calm and composed on national television in a blue emergency workers' outfit. He asked the public to remain calm and said there was no danger of leaked radiation from nuclear plants. "We will secure the safety of the people of Japan and the government Japan will make every effort possible to minimize the damage," Mr. Kan said.
The Japanese auto industry was also hit by the earthquake, with Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. among those shutting plants, but one automotive analyst called the expected impact on the industry "manageable."
Nissan said five plants had been shut down immediately after the quake struck and small fires had to be extinguished at two of the plants. It was assessing its operations and those of suppliers to see whether production could restart Monday. Toyota shut down two assembly plants, while at Honda's plant in Tochigi, north of Tokyo, a factory ceiling collapsed, crushing a worker to death and injuring 30 others.
At Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Daiichi plant, three reactors shut down automatically as designed. The quake also caused diesel-powered generators used to cool the reactors to stop operating, leaving the utility company with a shortage of coolant to bring the reactors to a safe temperature.
Meanwhile, the three reactors at Tohoku Electric Power Co.'s Onagawa plant in Miyagi, near the epicenter of the quake, also shut down automatically. A few hours later, the company said that it observed smoke coming from the building housing the No. 1 reactor at the plant.
French nuclear engineering group Areva said it hasn't been informed of any impact on its installations in the country. The company operates a joint venture with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Mitsubishi Corp. specialized in nuclear fuel called MNF, as well as a zirconium making plant, Cezus, which is a fully owned unit of Areva.
All other Japanese power companies operating nuclear power plants in the country said their facilities are operating normally.
As mobile phones and landlines remained down in Tokyo, Twitter proved to be one of the best ways to contact loved ones and get updates on the quake. Unable to use cellphones, many used their smartphones to tune into television broadcasts and find out what had happened.
"It's very convenient being able to watch live TV when the phones are down," said Minori Naito, an employee of Royal Bank of Scotland in Tokyo. "Otherwise, we'd have no idea what is going on."
At 3:24 p.m., a large aftershock struck, which could be felt standing on the ground outside of buildings in central Tokyo. People gasped while looking up at skyscrapers swaying gently and construction cranes shaking violently atop half-completed buildings. Glass panels on the ground floor of many newer buildings shimmied but few appeared to break. Inside the office buildings, the shaking felt violent.
The yen and Tokyo stocks fell, while Japanese government bond futures gained. The quake was originally reported at a magnitude of 7.9 but was later upgraded to 8.9, apparently exceeding the 8.8 quake that struck off Chile's coast in February 2010.
In Tokyo, hundreds of concerned office workers tried in vain to make calls on jammed cell-phone networks. Many of them gathered in open areas. The crowd appeared spooked by the sound of glass windows rattling in tall buildings.
Aftershocks were continuing, with one hitting magnitude 7.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
NHK Television reported that water could be seen rising over cars and pouring into warehouses at Onahama port in Fukushima Prefecture; in Iwate Prefecture a building was washed away, with boats and cars swirling around in the rising waters.
Tokyo's major airports halted flights, but the city's Narita airport had reopened by Friday evening. The long-distance shinkansen bullet train service was suspended.
The benchmark Nikkei Stock Average closed 1.7% lower, the U.S. dollar rose to around 83.30 yen from 82.80 yen earlier and June Japan government bond futures ended 0.66 higher at 139.20 points, having hit an intraday high of 139.90 just after the quake.
"The impact in the currency exchange market was a bit magnified because the overall market flow was thin. Now we'll pay attention to damage situations and if this is going to have a big negative impact on the domestic stock markets, the yen will keep weakening ahead," said Mitsuru Sahara, a senior dealer at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.
Analysts from Fitch Ratings and Moody's Investors Service both said it was too early to say how the quake might affect the country's credit ratings.
Richard Jerram, a Singapore-based economist at Macquarie Securities with long experience in Japan, said that while the scale of damage was hard to predict, "the most obvious concern is the debt market. That's going to be the thing to watch."
Japan's political logjam won't likely be a problem, as "you're obviously going to get a cooperative approach," he said.
Susumu Kato, Credit Agricole CIB's chief Japan economist, said the post-earthquake reconstruction will weigh on the government's expenditure as well as its fiscal position, though he said it's still too early to offer any estimates.
"The timing of an interest rate hike will likely be postponed further. I expect the earliest interest rate increase in Japan will be later than 2013," Mr. Kato said.
Insurer Swiss Re's Asia chief economist, Clarence Wong, said he doesn't expect the earthquake to have a severe impact on Japan's exports at large, given that many production lines of electronics producers have already been moved to other Asian countries.
However, he said domestic consumption will likely be hurt by the impact of the quake, "but post-crisis reconstruction will help drive gross domestic product upwards due to the increase of government spending."
Wis. governor signs bill limiting unions’ power
Walker directs two state agencies to rescind layoff notices
Capping weeks of political drama and open political warfare with the state’s public-sector unions, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Friday quietly signed landmark legislation reining in the power of public-employee unions after a pitched battle over collective bargaining that shows no signs of abating.
Mr. Walker signed the measure a day after the GOP-dominated state Assembly approved the bill on a 53-42 vote, marking the end of a bitter three-week struggle at the Capitol in Madison that pitted the budget-cutting Republican governor and legislature against Democratic lawmakers and union demonstrators who framed the debate as a battle for the survival of the labor movement.
“This is ultimately about a commitment to the future, so our children don’t face even more dire consequences than what we face today,” Mr. Walker said at a news conference in the West Allis community of Milwaukee on Thursday. He signed the bill privately Friday and planned a ceremonial public signing and a press conference later in the day.
Also on Friday morning, Mr. Walker directed two state agencies to rescind layoff notices because the legislature had passed the bill. He argued the layoff notices were needed to prepare the state in case the budget standoff dragged on.
Thursday’s Assembly vote came a day after the Wisconsin Senate approved the bill 18-1 by using a legislative maneuver that allowed the chamber to vote without the 14 Democratic senators who fled the state in an effort to block the legislation.
After the vote Thursday, Assembly members filed out of the chamber as demonstrators in the packed gallery shouted, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” The bill passed with no Democratic support, while four Republicans crossed party lines to oppose the measure.
Republicans said they were following the will of the voters. “People spoke very clearly and very loudly and said they wanted government to change here in Madison,” Republican Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said prior to Thursday’s vote. “It’s a tough vote, but it’s the right vote. People are sick of the status quo.”
Even with the bill’s passage, however, union supporters vowed the fight was far from over.
Organizers have launched a multifront effort to gain back their lost collective-bargaining ability that is expected to include a recall effort, at least one court challenge and a national walkout.
“What we have done, I think, is started a movement not only in Wisconsin but throughout this country — people standing up for workers’ rights and backing away from protecting the rich and the wealthy,” said Wisconsin state Sen. David Hansen on CBS-TV’s “The Early Show.”
Tsunami from Japan’s quake swamps Hawaii beaches, brushes West Coast
HONOLULU (AP) — Tsunami waves swamped Hawaii beaches and brushed the U.S. western coast Friday but didn’t immediately cause major damage after devastating Japan and sparking evacuations throughout the Pacific.
Kauai was the first of the Hawaiian islands struck by the tsunami, which was caused by an earthquake in Japan. Water rushed ashore at least 11 feet high near Kealakekua Bay, on the west side of the Big Island, and reached the lobby of a hotel. Flooding was reported on Maui, and water washed up on roadways on the Big Island.
Scientists and officials warned that the first tsunami waves are not always the strongest and said residents along the coast should watch for strong currents and heed calls for evacuation.
“The tsunami warning is not over,” said Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie. “We are seeing significant adverse activity, particularly on Maui and the Big Island. By no means are we clear in the rest of the state as well.”
High waters reached the U.S. western coast by 11:30 a.m. EST Friday, after evacuations were ordered and beaches closed all along the coast.
Fishermen in Crescent City, Calif., — where a tsunami in 1964 killed 11 people — fired up their crab boats and left the harbor to ride out an expected swell.
Sirens sounded for hours before dawn up and down the coast, and in Hawaii, roadways and beaches were empty as the tsunami struck. As sirens sounded throughout the night, most residents cleared out from the coasts and low-lying areas.
“I’m waiting to see if I’ll be working and if I can get to work,” said Sabrina Skiles, who spent the night at her husband’s office in downtown Kahului in Maui. Their home, across the street from the beach, was in a mandatory evacuation zone. “They’re saying the worst is over right now but we keep hearing reports saying ‘don’t go anywhere. You don’t want to go too soon.’”
The tsunami, spawned by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan, slammed the eastern coast of Japan, sweeping away boats, cars, homes and people as widespread fires burned out of control. It raced across the Pacific at 500 mph — as fast as a jetliner — although tsunami waves roll into shore at normal speeds.
President Barack Obama said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is ready to come to the aid of Hawaii and West Coast states as needed. Coast Guard cutter and aircraft crews were positioning themselves to be ready to conduct response and survey missions as soon as conditions allow.