Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, February 2011
Libyan Protesters Demand Regime Change, Clash With Security Forces in Eastern Cities
February 17-18, 2011
Libya: Opposition Groups Claim They Control Several Cities
By Mark Memmott February 18, 2011, 8:10 AM
"Anti-Gadhafi demonstrators have taken over several cities in eastern Libya but have suffered scores of deaths, according to exiled opposition groups in London," The Guardian reports.
Reuters is saying that it has been told by "two separate Libyan exile groups" that "anti-government protesters have seized control of the eastern Libyan city of al Bayda after they were joined by some local police."
And the BBC reports that "witnesses in the Libyan city of Benghazi say hundreds of people, at least, have gathered for an anti-government protest. A lawyer in Benghazi told the BBC that thousands of people were outside the city's courthouse." (The BBC also continues to live-blog events in the region here.)
As we cautioned yesterday, it's very difficult to get a solid look into what's happening in Libya because there just aren't that many independent journalists in the country right now.
NPR's Andy Carvin (@acarvin) is following what's being posted on Twitter about events in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and other countries being rocked by protests. There's also lots of information being collected by StoryfulPro (@storyfulpro).
Update at 11:10 a.m. ET: "A Libyan website affiliated with one of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi's sons said Friday that the national congress has halted its session indefinitely and indicated amid widespread unrest that it will take steps to reform the government when it reconvenes," The Associated Press reports. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Flamboyant Gaddafi feels ripples of change
Credit: Reuters/Ismail Zitouny
By Giles Elgood
LONDON | Fri Feb 18, 2011 10:51am EST
LONDON (Reuters) -
With his penchant for Bedouin tents, heavily armed female bodyguards and Ukrainian nurses, Muammar Gaddafi has cut a showman like figure as Libya's leader for more than 40 years.
For most that time he also held a prominent position in the West's international rogues' gallery.
He has maintained tight control by clamping down on dissidents but his oil-producing nation is now beginning to feel the wind of change that is blowing across the Arab world.
Anti-Gaddafi protesters clashed with police and government supporters in the eastern city of Benghazi, and Human Rights Watch reported that at least 24 people had died in two days of unrest this week.
The Arab world's longest serving leader, he has no official government function and is known as the "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution."
Visionary or dictator, Gaddafi's quirky style is unique.
His love of grand gestures is most on display on foreign visits when he sleeps in a Bedouin tent guarded by dozens of female bodyguards.
During a visit to Italy in August last year, Gaddafi's invitation to hundreds of young women to convert to Islam overshadowed the two-day trip, which was intended to cement the growing ties between Tripoli and Rome.
U.S. diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website have shed further light on the Libyan leader's tastes.
One cable posted by The New York Times describes Gaddafi's insistence on staying on the first floor when he visited New York for a 2009 meeting at the United Nations and his reported refusal or inability to climb more than 35 steps.
Gaddafi is also said to rely heavily on his staff of four Ukrainian nurses, including one woman described as a "voluptuous blonde." The cable speculated about a romantic relationship.
Gaddafi was born in 1942, the son of a Bedouin herdsman, in a tent near Sirte on the Mediterranean coast. He abandoned a geography course at university for a military career that included a short spell at a British army signals school.
Gaddafi took power in a bloodless military coup in 1969 when he toppled King Idriss, and in the 1970s he formulated his "Third Universal Theory," a middle road between communism and capitalism.
Gaddafi oversaw the rapid development of his poverty-stricken country, previously known for little more than oil wells and deserts where huge tank battles took place in World War Two.
Libyan Military on alert after thousands rally against protester fatalities
Soldiers were deployed on the streets of Libya's second city of Benghazi on Friday, a witness said, after thousands of people took to the streets overnight to protest about security forces killing more than 20 protesters.
New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch said that according to its sources inside the country, Libyan security forces had killed at least 24 people in crackdowns on protests on Wednesday and Thursday.
The killings happened after opponents of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's leader for more than 40 years, designated Thursday a day of protest to try to emulate uprisings in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia which ousted entrenched leaders.
A resident who lives on Benghazi's main thoroughfare, Nasser Street, told Reuters on Friday morning the city was now quiet, with no more demonstrations.
But he said: "Last night was very hard, there were a lot of people in the street, thousands of people. Now it is quiet. I saw soldiers in the street."
BBC radio, quoting an eyewitness, said protesters in Benghazi had clashed with security forces firing guns. Doctors had counted the bodies of 10 people. Benghazi is about 1,000 km (600 miles) east of the Libyan capital.
Another resident in Benghazi, who said he had been in contact with people in the nearby town of al Bayda, told Reuters: "The confrontation between protesters and Gaddafi supporters is still going on, some of the police have become angry ... there are a lot of people killed."
Local sources had earlier told Reuters that at least five people were killed in al Bayda.
The resident also said that Saadi Gaddafi, a businessman son of the Libyan leader had been on local radio and said he was coming to Benghazi to take over as mayor of the city and protect the people there.
Funerals of those killed were expected in both Benghazi and Al Bayda on Friday. Such funerals could act as a catalyst for further protests.
On Thursday deadly clashes broke out in several towns after the opposition called for protests in a rare show of defiance inspired by uprisings in other Arab states and the toppling of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Tight controls on media and communications in Libya made it difficult to assess the extent of the violence, but on Friday unverified reports on social network sites said up to 50 people had died. There was no official comment on the violence.
Human Rights Watch said the Libyan authorities should respect citizens' rights to protest peacefully. "Libyans should not have to risk their lives to make a stand for their rights as human beings," the group said in a statement.
Political analysts say Libya oil wealth should give the government the capacity to smooth over social problems and reduce the risk of an Egypt-style revolt.
Gaddafi's opponents say they want political freedoms, respect for human rights and an end to corruption. Gaddafi says Libyans enjoy true democracy.
Pro-government supporters also were out on the streets early on Friday, according to CNN. The broadcaster said images transmitted on Libyan state television labelled "live" showed men chanting slogans in support of Gaddafi.
The pro-Gaddafi crowd was seen singing as it surrounded his limousine as it crept along a road in the capital packed with people carrying his portrait. Fireworks lit up the night sky.
Anti-government protests, clashes spread to Libya
By Maggie Michael, Associated Press –
Wed Feb 16, 2011,3:04 pm ET
Egypt-inspired unrest spread against Libya's longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi on Wednesday, with riot police clashing with protesters in the second-largest city of Benghazi and marchers setting fire to security headquarters and police stations in two other cities, witnesses said.
Gadhafi's government sought to allay further unrest by proposing the doubling of government employees' salaries and releasing 110 suspected Islamic militants who oppose him — tactics similar to those adopted by other Arab regimes in the recent wave of protests.
Activists using Facebook and Twitter have called for nationwide demonstrations on Thursday to demand the ouster of Gadhafi, the establishment of a constitution and comprehensive political and economic reforms. Gadhafi came to power in 1969 through a military coup and has ruled the country without an elected parliament or constitution.
The Benghazi protest began Tuesday, triggered by the arrest of an activist but quickly took on an anti-government tone, according to witnesses and other activists. The protest was relatively small, but it signaled that anti-government activists have been emboldened by uprisings elsewhere.
It started at the local security headquarters after troops raided the home of rights advocate Fathi Tarbel and took him away, according to Switzerland-based activist Fathi al-Warfali.
Tarbel was released after meeting with Libya's top security official Abdullah al-Sanousi, but the protesters proceeded to march through the coastal city to the main downtown plaza, al-Warfali said.
Protests renewed on Wednesday as the families of four other activists still in custody, including author Idris al-Mesmari, marched on security headquarters to demand their release, al-Warfali said, citing witnesses.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said a total of nine activists have been arrested in Tripoli and Benghazi in an effort to prevent people from joining the rallies called for Thursday. Those protests have been called to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the killing of nine people demonstrating in front of the Italian Consulate against a cartoon depicting Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
"This is a pre-emptive attempt to prevent peaceful protests on Feb. 17," the group's Heba Morayef said.
The online campaign calling for Thursday's rallies named the planned protest "the revolution of al-Mokhtar," referring to Omar al-Mokhtar, the leader of the Libyan resistance against Italy's military occupation in the first half of the 20th century. Al-Mokhtar was executed in 1931.
Independent confirmation of Wednesday's protests in Benghazi was not possible because the government tightly controls the media, but video clips posted on the Internet showed protesters carrying signs and chanting: "No God but Allah. Moammar is the enemy of Allah," and "Down, down to corruption and to the corrupt."
Police and armed government backers quickly clamped down, firing rubber bullets and dousing protesters with water cannons.
Another video with the same date showed people running away from gunfire while shots are heard. A young man in a white, bloodstained robe was then seen being carried by protesters.
A Libyan security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said 14 people, including 10 policemen, were injured. The official accused protesters of being armed with knives and stones. Witnesses said the protests were peaceful but came under attack from pro-Gadhafi men.
In the southern city of Zentan, 75 miles (120 kilometers) south of Tripoli, hundreds of people marched through the streets and set fire to security headquarters and a police station, then set up tents in the heart of the town while chanting, "The people want the ouster of the regime," witnesses told al-Warfali.
Resentment against Gadhafi runs high in Zentan because many of the detained army officers who took part in a failed coup in 1993 hail from the city of 100,000 people.
In Beyida, to the east of Benghazi, hundreds of protesters torched police stations while chanting, "people want the ouster of the regime," according to Rabie al-Messrati, a 25-year-old protester. Al-Messrati said he was arrested five days ago after spreading the call for the Feb. 17 protest. He said he was released Tuesday and took part in Wednesday's demonstrations.
"All the people of Beyida are out in the streets," he said.
Another protester, Ahmed al-Husseini, said that he saw snipers on the roof of the security headquarters opening fire on protesters, wounding at least eight people.
"This is my first time to stand up against injustice and oppression," he said. "For 42 years I have not been able to speak up."
The protests came as security forces in Beyida rounded up a number of activists while searching for Sheik Ahmed al-Dayekh, an outspoken cleric who criticized Gadhafi and corruption in Libya during a Friday sermon.
The outbreak of protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Iran has roiled the Middle East and brought unprecedented pressure on leaders like Gadhafi who have held virtually unchecked power for decades.
It also has posed new challenges for the United States, which has strategic interests in each of the countries. President Barack Obama conceded Tuesday he is concerned about the region's stability and prodded governments to get out ahead of the change.
Libya's official news agency did not carry any reports of the anti-government protests. It reported only that supporters of Gadhafi demonstrated Wednesday in the capital, Tripoli, as well as Benghazi and other cities.
Libyan TV showed video of 12 state-orchestrated rallies of government employees, and students. The biggest was in Tripoli, where about 3,000 rallied in the streets, chanting: "Moammar is our leader. We don't want anyone but him."
JANA, the official news agency, quoted a statement from the pro-Gadhafi demonstrators as pledging to "defend the leader and the revolution." The statement described the anti-government protesters as "cowards and traitors."
Meanwhile, the government freed 110 Islamic militants who were members of a group plotting to overthrow Gadhafi, leaving only 30 members of the group in prison.
Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the leader's son, has orchestrated the release of members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which is suspected of having links to al-Qaida, in the past as part of a reconciliation plan.
The government also proposed increasing the salaries of state workers by 100 percent.
Gadhafi, long reviled in the West, has been trying to bring his country out of isolation, announcing in 2003 that he was abandoning his program for weapons of mass destruction, renouncing terrorism and compensating victims of the 1986 La Belle disco bombing in Berlin and the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Those decisions opened the door for warmer relations with the West and the lifting of U.N. and U.S. sanctions, but Gadhafi continues to face allegations of human rights violations in the North African nation.
The activist's arrest followed the collapse of talks between the government and a committee representing families of hundreds of inmates killed when security forces opened fire during 1996 riots at Abu Salim, Libya's most notorious prison. The government has begun to pay compensation to families, but the committee is demanding prosecution of those responsible.
Al-Warfali, the Switzerland-based activist, said the ultimate goal was to oust the Gadhafi regime.
"These are old calls by the Libyan opposition in exile, but Egypt and Tunisia have given us new momentum. They brought down the barrier of fear," he said.
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