Gaddafi’s son warns of civil war in Libya
Cairo: After anti-government unrest spread to the Libyan capital and protesters seized military bases and weapons on Sunday, Muammar Gaddafi’s son went on state television to proclaim that his father remained in charge with the army’s backing and would “fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet.”
The speech followed a fierce crackdown by security forces who fired on thousands of demonstrators and funeral marchers in the eastern city of Benghazi in a bloody cycle of violence that killed 60 people on Sunday, according to a doctor in one city hospital. Since the unrest began, more than 200 people have been killed, according to medical officials, human rights groups and exiled dissidents.
Libya’s response has been the harshest of any Arab country that has been hit by protests that toppled long-serving leaders in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt. But Mr. Gaddafi’s son said his father would prevail.
“We are not Tunisia and Egypt,” he said. “Muammar Gaddafi, our leader, is leading the battle in Tripoli, and we are with him.
“The armed forces are with him. Tens of thousands are heading here to be with him. We will fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet,” he said in a rambling and sometimes confused speech of nearly 40 minutes.
Although the elder Gaddafi did not appear, his son has often been put forward as the regime’s face of reform.
Western countries have expressed concern at the rising violence against demonstrators in Libya. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he spoke to Mr. Seif al-Islam by phone and told him that the country must embark on “dialogue and implement reforms,” the Foreign Office said.
In his speech, the younger Gaddafi conceded the army made some mistakes during the protests because the troops were not trained to deal with demonstrators, but he added that the number of dead had been exaggerated, giving a death toll of 84.
He offered to put forward reforms within days that he described as a “historic national initiative” and said the regime was willing to remove some restrictions and begin discussions for a constitution. He offered to change a number of laws, including those covering the media and the penal code.
Dressed in a dark business suit and tie, Mr. Seif al-Islam wagged his finger frequently as he delivered his warnings. He said that if protests continued, Libya would slide back to “colonial” rule. “You will get Americans and European fleets coming your way and they will occupy you.”
He threatened to “eradicate the pockets of sedition” and said the army will play a main role in restoring order.
“There has to be a firm stand,” he said. “This is not the Tunisian or Egyptian army.”
Protesters had seized some military bases, tanks and other weapons, he said, blaming Islamists, the media, thugs, drunks and drug abusers, foreigners, including Egyptians and Tunisians.
He also admitted that the unrest had spread to Tripoli, with people firing in central Green Square before fleeing.
The rebellion by Libyans frustrated with Mr. Gaddafi’s more than 40 years of authoritarian rule has spread to more than half-a-dozen eastern cities, but also to Tripoli, where secret police were heavily deployed on the streets of the city of two million.
Armed security forces were seen on rooftops surrounding central Green Square, a witness said by telephone, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. The witness added that a group of about 200 lawyers and judges were protesting inside a Tripoli courthouse, which was also surrounded by security forces.
An exiled opposition leader in Cairo said hundreds of protesters were near the Bab al-Aziziya military camp where Mr. Gaddafi lives on Tripoli’s outskirts of Tripoli. Faiz Jibril said his contacts inside Libya were also reporting that hundreds of protesters had gathered in another downtown plaza, Martyrs Square.
In other setbacks for Mr. Gaddafi’s regime, a major tribe in Libya was reported to have turned against him and Libya’s representative to the Arab League said he resigned his post to protest the government’s decision to fire on defiant demonstrators in Benghazi, the second-largest city.
Khaled Abu Bakr, a resident of Sabratha, an ancient Roman city to the west, said protesters besieged the local security headquarters, driving out police and setting it on fire. Mr. Abu Bakr said residents were in charge and had set up neighbourhood committees to secure their city.
The Internet has been largely shut down, residents can no longer make international calls from land lines and journalists cannot work freely, but eyewitness reports trickling out of the country suggested that protesters were fighting back more forcefully against the Middle East’s longest-serving leader.
“We are not afraid. We won’t turn back,” said a teacher who identified herself only as Omneya. She said she was marching at the end of the funeral procession on a highway beside the Mediterranean and heard gunfire from two kilometres away.
“If we don’t continue, this vile man would crush us with his tanks and bulldozers. If we don’t, we won’t ever be free,” she said.
Protesters throwing firebombs and stones got on bulldozers and tried to storm a presidential compound from which troops had fired on the marchers, who included those carrying coffins of the dead from Saturday’s unrest in the eastern city, a witness said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fears of reprisal. The attempt was repulsed by armed forces in the compound, according to a witness and the official JANA news agency, which said a number of attackers and solders were killed.
Later, however, a Benghazi resident said he received a telephone text message that an army battalion that appeared to be sympathetic to the demonstrators and led by a local officer was arriving to take over control of the compound, and urging civilians to get out of the way.