Libyan Fighter Jets Attack Protesters in Tripoli

Daily News Article   —   Posted on February 22, 2011

(from MSNBC.com) TRIPOLI - Libyan military aircraft fired live ammunition at crowds of anti-government protesters in Tripoli, Al-Jazeera television reported Monday.

“What we are witnessing today is unimaginable,” said Adel Mohamed Saleh, an activist in the capital whose accounts could not be independently confirmed. “Warplanes and helicopters are indiscriminately bombing one area after another. There are many, many dead. …..

Fathi al-Warfali, the Libyan activist who heads the Swiss-based Libyan Committee for Truth and Justice, who was taking part in a protest outside U.N. European headquarters in Geneva, said he had heard the same reports.

The accounts came as deep cracks opened in Moammar Gadhafi’s regime after more than 40 years in power, with diplomats abroad and the justice minister at home resigning, air force pilots defecting and a fire raging at the main government hall after the clashes in the capital Tripoli. Protesters called for another night of defiance in Tripoli’s main square despite the government’s heavy crackdown. …..

Human Rights Watch said Monday that at least 233 people had been killed since the protests began last week, but opposition groups put the figure much higher. Most fatalities were in Benghazi, a region where Gadhafi’s grip has always been weaker than elsewhere in the oil-producing desert nation.

Gadhafi’s son [Seif al-Islam] vowed Sunday that his father and security forces would fight “until the last bullet.”

An analyst for London-based consultancy Control Risks said the use of military aircraft on his own people indicated the end was approaching for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

“These really seem to be last, desperate acts. If you’re bombing your own capital, it’s really hard to see how you can survive, ” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, Control Risks’ Middle East analyst.

“But I think Gaddafi is going to put up a fight … in Libya more than any other country in the region, there is the prospect of serious violence and outright conflict,” he said.

Gadhafi’s regime appeared to be preparing a new major assault in the capital Monday night. State TV at nightfall announced that the military had “stormed the hideouts of saboteurs” and called on the public to back the security forces as protesters called for a new demonstration in central Green Square and in front of Gadhafi’s Tripoli residence.

Snipers had taken position on the roofs of buildings around Tripoli, apparently to stop people from outside the capital from joining the march, according to Mohammed Abdul-Malek, a London-based opposition activist in touch with residents.

Communications into the capital appeared to have been cut, and mobile phones of residents could not be reached from outside the country. State TV showed images of hundreds of Gadhafi supporters rallying in central Green Square Monday evening, waving pictures of the Libyan leader and palm fronds.

Fighter pilots claim asylum
Reuters reported that two Libyan fighter jets flown by Libyan air force colonels were granted permission to land in Malta after asking for political asylum.

They had left from a base near Tripoli and had flown low over Libyan airspace to avoid detection. …  Sources said the fighter pilots defected because they would not fire on the Tripoli protesters.

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Leaders break with Gadhafi
Libya’s ambassadors at the United Nations called for Gadhafi to step down as the country’s ruler. Deputy Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said Monday that if Gadhafi does not relinquish power, “the Libyan people will get rid of him.”

The staff of Libya’s mission to the United Nations declared allegiance to the people of Libya, instead of to Gadhafi, a spokesman said Monday. …..

Justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil reportedly resigned from his post to protest the “excessive use of force against unarmed protesters.” …..

Libya’s former ambassador to the Arab League in Cairo, Abdel-Moneim al-Houni, who a day earlier resigned from his post to side with protesters, issued a statement demanding Gadhafi “be put on trial along with his aides, security and military commanders over the mass killings in Libya.” …..

Celebration in Benghazi
Protesters celebrated in the streets of the country’s second largest city, Benghazi, claiming they were in control after days of bloody fighting and after anti-government unrest. Celebrating protesters raised the flag of the country’s old monarchy, toppled in 1969 by a Gadhafi-led military coup, over Benghazi’s main courthouse and on tanks around the city.

“Gadhafi needs one more push and he is gone,” said Amal Roqaqie, a lawyer at the Benghazi court, saying protesters are “imposing a new reality … Tripoli will be our capital. We are imposing a new order and new state, a civil constitutional and with transitional government.”

Cars honked their horns in celebration and protesters in the streets chanted “Long live Libya.”

There were fears of chaos as young men – including regime supporters – seized weapons from the Katiba and other captured security buildings. “The youths now have arms and that’s worrying,” said Iman, a doctor at the main hospital. “We are appealing to the wise men of every neighborhood to rein in the youths.”

Youth volunteers were directing traffic and guarding homes and public facilities, said Najla, a lawyer and university lecturer in Benghazi. She and other residents said police had disappeared from the streets.

After seizing the Katiba, protesters found the bodies of 13 uniformed security officers inside…. He said protesters believed the 13 had been executed by fellow security forces for refusing to attack protesters.

Rage in Tripoli
The capital was largely shut down, with schools, government offices and most stores closed, as armed members of pro-government organizations called “Revolutionary Committees” circulated in the streets hunting for protesters in Tripoli’s old city, said one protester, named Fathi.

During the day Monday, a fire was raging at the People’s Hall, the main hall for government gatherings where the country’s equivalent of a parliament holds its sessions several times a year, the pro-government news web site Qureyna said.

Protesters planned new marches in the central Green Square and at the leader’s residence for Monday evening.

Sunday evening, protesters from various parts of the city streamed into Green Square, all but taking over the plaza and surrounding streets in the area between Tripoli’s Ottoman-era old city and its Italian-style downtown. That was when the backlash began, with snipers firing down from rooftops and militiamen attacking the crowds, shooting and chasing people down side streets, according to several witnesses and protesters.

Gadhafi supporters in pickup trucks and cars raced through the square, shooting automatic weapons. “They were driving like mad men searching for someone to kill. … It was total chaos, shooting and shouting,” said one 28-year-old protester. …After midnight, protesters took over the main Tripoli offices of two state-run satellite stations, Al-Jamahiriya-1 and Al-Shebabiya, one witness said.

International alarm
Gadhafi’s regime has unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region, which toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.

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The White House said on Monday that it was analyzing Seif’s [Gadhafi’s son] speech to see what offers of meaningful reform it contained, NBC News reported.

Seif promised “historic” reforms in Libya if protests stop, and on Monday state TV said he had formed a commission to investigate deaths during the unrest. Protesters ignored the vague gestures.

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Fragmentation is a real danger in Libya, a country of deep tribal divisions and a historic rivalry between Tripoli and Benghazi. The system of rule created by Gadhafi – the “Jamahiriya,” or “rule by masses” – is highly decentralized, run by “popular committees” in a complicated hierarchy that effectively means there is no real center of decision-making except Gadhafi, his sons and their top aides.

Seif has often been put forward as the regime’s face of reform and is often cited as a likely successor to his father. Seif’s younger brother Mutassim is the national security adviser, with a strong role in the military and security forces, and another brother Khamis heads the army’s 32nd Brigade, which according to U.S. diplomats is the best trained and best equipped force in the military.

Oil price jumps
The spiraling turmoil in Libya, an OPEC country that is a significant oil supplier to Europe, was raising international alarm and pushing oil prices sharply higher.

The oil price jumped $4.13 to $90.13 a barrel in the U.S. market for crude on fear the unrest could disrupt supplies.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from MSNBC.com. Visit the website at MSNBC.com.


Questions

1. a) What is the capital of Libya?
b) Name the second largest city of Libya.
c) Name the countries and body of water that border Libya.

2. For how many years has Moammar Gadhafi controlled Libya?

3. a) How many Libyans have been killed as a result of protests over the past week, according to Human Rights Watch?
b) Why might the number of those killed greatly increase by the end of the week?

4. How have government/military officials distanced themselves from Gadhafi?

5. How might the turmoil in Libya hurt American consumers?

This is a developing story. Follow the news for the latest reports on the Middle East.


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Background

LIBYA:

  • The population of Libya is 6,461,454.
  • Ninety percent of the people live in less than 10% of the area, primarily along the coast.
  • More than half the population is urban, mostly concentrated in the two largest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi.
  • Thirty-three percent of the population is estimated to be under age 15.
  • The official name of Libya is: Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. [NOTE: “Jamahiriya” is a term Qadhafi coined and which he defines as a “state of the masses” governed by the populace through local councils.]
  • In practice, Libya is an authoritarian state.
  • Libya’s political system is in theory based on the political philosophy in Qadhafi’s Green Book, which combines socialist and Islamic theories and rejects parliamentary democracy and political parties.
  • In reality, Qadhafi exercises near total control over major government decisions.  (from state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5425.htm)

REPORT ON LIBYA FROM FREEDOM HOUSE (freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=363&year=2010)

  • Libya is not an electoral democracy.
  • Political parties have been illegal for over 35 years, and the government strictly monitors political activity.
  • Organizing or joining anything akin to a political party is punishable by long prison terms and even the death sentence.
  • Many Libyan opposition movements and figures operate outside the country.
  • Corruption is pervasive in both the private sector and the government in Libya, which was ranked 130 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
  • There is no independent press.
  • State-owned media largely operate as mouthpieces for the authorities, and journalists work in a climate of fear and self-censorship. Those who displease the regime face harassment or imprisonment on trumped-up charges.
  • The government controls the country’s only internet service provider. Internet usage stood at only 4.7 percent in 2008 due to poor telecommunications infrastructure.
  • Nearly all Libyans are Muslim. The government closely monitors mosques for Islamist activity, and there have been unconfirmed reports of Islamist militant groups allied to Al-Qaeda operating against the government.
  • The government does not uphold freedom of assembly. Those demonstrations that are allowed to take place are typically meant to support the aims of the regime.
  • In February 2007, the authorities arrested 13 men for planning a peaceful demonstration in Tripoli to commemorate clashes between security forces and demonstrators the previous year. All were reportedly released by March 2009.
  • The People’s Court, infamous for punishing political dissidents, was abolished in 2005, but the judicial authority has since created the State Security Court, which carries out a similar function.
  • The judiciary as a whole remains subservient to the political leadership and regularly penalizes political dissent.
  • Human Rights Watch, citing Libya’s secretary of justice, reported in December 2009 that 500 political prisoners remained in custody despite having been acquitted of all charges or served their full prison sentences. The head of internal security, Colonel Al-Tohamy Khaled, defended the continued detention of such prisoners by arguing that they were undergoing mandatory rehabilitation programs designed to rid them of extremist beliefs. He reportedly criticized the judges who had ordered the prisoners’ release, saying they did not understand the threat the inmates posed.
  • A large number of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa work in Libya or pass through in attempts to reach Europe. The Nigerian government alleged that Libya executed dozens of Nigerians in 2009 and intended to execute more than 200 additional Nigerian nationals for simple immigration violations.
  • Women enjoy many of the same legal protections as men, but certain laws and social norms perpetuate discrimination, particularly in areas such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Women who have been cast out by their families are particularly vulnerable. The government considers such women wayward and can hold them indefinitely in “social rehabilitation” facilities, which are de facto prisons. Women are seriously underrepresented in Libya’s political system, with only 36 gaining seats in March 2009 indirect elections for the 468-member General People’s Congress.

Resources

Read about Libya at the U.S. State Department website state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5425.htm.

For a map of Libya, go to worldatlas.com.

Watch a news report on Libya here: