Misrata, 10 July:
The Security Battalion of Misrata, headed by Juma Belhaj, issued a statement this afternoon stating it has a duty . . .[restrict]to protect the two Misrata TV journalists, Yusuf Baadi and Abdul Qader Fusuq, seized in Bani Walid last week. The battalion said it was under the legitimate authority of the government and state. It would not act without the government’s approval. However, this was then contradicted with the condition that if the government did not take action to secure the journalists’ release, the battalion would have to do so itself.
The two men, the statement read, were jounalists doing their job covering the elections, first in Mizdah, then Nismah and finally Bani Walid.
This is seen as a rebuttal of claims in Bani Walid that the two journalists were spies from Misrata sent to take pictures of the place in preparation for an attack. Bani Walid military leaders have said that neither Baadi not Fusuq had permission to enter the town and should consequently be put in trial.
Referring to Bani Walid’s demand that 120 of its men held in Misrata be handed over in return for freeing the two, the statement said that an exchange was against the law and there could be no comparison between the case of two Libyans doing their legitimate work and that of prisoners of war. It added that the latter were not in Misrata’s possession but in the hands of the Ministry of Justice.
A heavily armed Misratan force said to be over a thousand-strong is camped at Bir Dufan, halfway between Misrata and Bani Walid. It is reported that others from elsewhere in Libya have been joining it.
Earlier Prime Minister Abdurrahim Al-Kib called for Bani Walid to hand over the two by Thursday. Fighting is expected if the deadline is not met.
Meanwhile, women in Misrata plan a demonstration tomorrow afternoon in support of the two journalists. The protest is scheduled to take place outside the Martyrs’ Hall in the city’s main square at 5 p.m.. [/restrict]