Libya - revolt spreads

posted 21 Feb 2011, 07:57 by Admin uk   [ updated 21 Feb 2011, 10:53 ]

21 February 2011 Last updated at 18:08

 Libya protests: Gaddafi regime shaken by unrest  

 The 40-year rule of Col Muammar Gaddafi is under threat amid spiralling unrest throughout Libya.

Several senior officials - including the justice minister - have reportedly resigned after security forces fired on protesters in Tripoli overnight.

Witnesses say renewed protests have hit two suburbs of the capital.

In an earlier TV address, Col Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam conceded that the eastern cities of al-Bayda and Benghazi were under opposition control.

But he warned of civil war and vowed that the regime would "fight to the last bullet".

The BBC's Jon Leyne, in neighbouring Egypt, says Col Gaddafi has now lost the support of almost every section of society.

Reliable sources say Col Gaddafi has now left the capital, our correspondent adds.

'Hatred of Libya'

After clashes in the capital overnight were suppressed by security forces, state TV reported a renewed operation had begun against opposition elements there.

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image of Jon Leyne Jon Leyne BBC News, Cairo

The situation in Libya is becoming increasingly confused and chaotic. There are several reports that Col Gaddafi has now left Tripoli, possibly for his hometown of Sirt or his desert base of Sabha.

In Tripoli itself, elements of the security forces are still on the streets, though the violence seems to be increasingly random.

During the night, there were more brutal attacks on demonstrators who had gathered, after rumours spread that Col Gaddafi had fled the country.

Hour by hour, there are reports of more defections. Almost all major tribal leaders seem to have joined the opposition, as well as important religious leaders and several senior Libyan ambassadors.

The east of the country is already almost entirely out of the hands of the government. Col Gaddafi's hold on power is becoming weaker by the hour.

"Security forces have started to storm into the dens of terror and sabotage, spurred by the hatred of Libya," the Libyan TV channel reported.

An eyewitness in Tripoli told the BBC that the suburbs of Fashloom and Zawiyat al-Dahmani had been cordoned off by security forces.

Protesters were out on the streets and flames and smoke could be seen rising from the area, the witness said.

Amid the turmoil on the streets, senior officials have also begun to desert the regime.

Justice Minister Mustapha Abdul Jalil quit the government because of the "excessive use of violence", the privately owned Quryna newspaper reported.

In New York, Libya's deputy ambassador to the UN denounced the Gaddafi government, accusing it of carrying out genocide against the people.

Libya's envoy to the Arab League, Abdel Moneim al-Honi, announced he was "joining the revolution", and its ambassador to India, Ali al-Essawi, told the BBC he was also resigning.

In another blow to Col Gaddafi's rule, two tribes - including Libya's largest tribe, the Warfla - have backed the protesters.

Meanwhile, two helicopters and two fighter jets from Libya landed in Malta.

The helicopter was said to be carrying French oil workers, and the fighter pilots were reported to have left Benghazi when an airbase was taken over by protesters.

'Decisive moment'
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Mid-East unrest: Libya

  • Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has led since 1969
  • Population 6.5m; land area 1.77m sq km, much of it desert
  • Population with median age of 24.2, and a literacy rate of 88%
  • Gross national income per head: $12,020 (World Bank 2009)

Human Rights Watch says at least 233 people have died since last Thursday, though in his speech, Saif al-Islam insisted reports of the death toll had been exaggerated.

The US, UK and French governments are among those condemning the harsh treatment of protesters.

The US has ordered all families of embassy staff and all non-essential diplomats to leave the country.

Italy, the former colonial power in Libya, has close business links to Tripoli and voiced alarm at the prospect of the Gaddafi government collapsing.

"Would you imagine to have an Islamic Arab Emirate at the borders of Europe? This would be a very serious threat," said Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

The head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, described the protesters' demands as legitimate, calling it a "decisive moment in history" for Arab nations.

Oil price jumps

Reports from several cities suggest the country is sliding out of the government's control:

  • In Az-Zawiya, 40km (25 miles) west of Tripoli, witnesses say the police have fled, government buildings have been burnt down and the city is in chaos.
  • Unconfirmed reports from the port city of Darnah say protesters are holding more than 300 workers hostage - many of them Bangladeshis.
  • Several hundred Libyans stormed a South Korean-run construction site west of Tripoli, injuring at least four workers.
  • In Benghazi, reports say 11 solders were killed by their commanding officers for refusing to fire on protesters.

The violence has helped to push up oil prices to their highest levels since the global financial crisis of 2008.

At one point, Brent crude - one of the main benchmarks on world oil markets - reached $105 (£65) a barrel.

International firms including BP, one of the world's biggest oil companies, are preparing to pull their staff out of Libya.


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   Emerging reports early Feb. 21 indicate the unrest in Libya is spreading from eastern Libya to the capital of Tripoli. According to initial reports, heavy gunfire was heard in central Tripoli and in other districts, with Al Jazeera reporting 61 people killed in Tripoli on Feb. 21. Other unconfirmed reports say protesters attacked the headquarters of Al-Jamahiriya Two television and Al-Shababia as well as other government buildings in Tripoli overnight. According to Saudi-owned Al Arabiya, the People’s Conference Centre where the Libyan parliament meets when it is in session in Tripoli was set on fire. Energy company BP reportedly said it would evacuate its personnel from Libya and suspend its activities due to massive unrest. Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said Feb. 21 that the EU member states are coordinating possible evacuations of European nationals from Libya. A Turkish Airlines flight was arranged to evacuate Turkish citizens from Benghazi but was denied the opportunity to land by Libyan authorities and returned to Turkey.

Details are sketchy as to the number of protesters and severity of the clashes in Tripoli. Clashes have been going on between the protesters and security forces mostly in eastern cities of the country and in Benghazi in particular, where opposition to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is concentrated. Signs of protests spreading to Tripoli emerged late Feb. 20 and apparently intensified following a speech made by Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam. In that speech, Seif al-Islam was attempting to present himself as the new and untarnished face of the regime, reiterating the political, social and economic reforms that he has long advocated were needed to hold Libya’s tribal society together. Though in his speech Seif al-Islam carefully distanced himself from old-regime tactics, protesters in Tripoli reportedly rejected the young Libyan leader and began chanting slogans against Seif al-Islam’s address.

Critically, Seif al-Islam implied in his speech that he had the the approval of his father and elements within the military, and that the army and national guard would be relied on to crack down on “seditious elements” spreading unrest. However, unconfirmed reports of army defections in Benghazi and Al Bayda in eastern Libya from Feb. 20, and now spreading unrest to Tripoli on Feb. 21, are casting some doubt on the regime’s ability to count on the full loyalty and ability of the army to contain the situation.