Libyan Jets Attack Protestors; Officers Defect; Gaddafi Defiant

February 22nd, 2011 - by admin & Marwan Bishara / Al Jazeera – 2011-02-22 23:52:25

Libya Fighter Jets Attack Protesters in Tripoli

TRIPOLI (February 21, 2011) — 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. Our people are dying. It is the policy of scorched earth,” he said.

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. Arabiya television said the Tripoli clashes Monday left 160 dead.

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 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. [EAW Note: Libya’s Air Force flies French-built Dassault Mirage jets and Soviet-made MiGs. The US has supplied Libya with Lockheed C-100-H Hercules cargo jets and and CH-47 Chinook helicopters.]

They had left from a base near Tripoli and had flown low over Libyan airspace to avoid detection. They arrived shortly after two civilian helicopters carrying seven people claiming to be French landed after a flight from Libya. Sources said the fighter pilots defected because they would not fire on the Tripoli protesters.

UK-based opposition activist Ahmed Sawalem, who is keeping in touch with protesters in Libya, told that there were reports of planes bombing a weapons store south of Benghazi in Ajdabiya “so the protesters cannot get hold of them, to use them to fight.” He said a number of people in the area were thought to have been killed in the attack.

A suggestion that Gadhafi may have fled was fueled when British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had “some information” the dictator was heading for Venezuela.

However a senior government source in Caracas denied that and a U.K. official said Hague had been referring only to unconfirmed media reports.

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. “The members of the Libyan mission are representing only the Libyan people and not anyone else,” the spokesman, Dia al-Hotmani, said by telephone.

Justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil reportedly resigned from his post to protest the “excessive use of force against unarmed protesters.” A Libyan diplomat in China, Hussein el-Sadek el-Mesrati, told Al-Jazeera, “I resigned from representing the government of Mussolini and Hitler.”

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.”

“Gadhafi’s regime is now in the trash of history because he betrayed his nation and his people,” al-Houni said.

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 who had been handcuffed and shot in the head, then set on fire, said Hassan, also a doctor. 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 protests.

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.

The witnesses reported seeing casualties, but the number could not be confirmed. One witness, named Fathi, said he saw at least two he believed were dead and many more wounded. 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.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke to Gadhafi Monday by telephone, expressing deep concern over the escalating violence and saying it must stop immediately, a statement obtained by NBC News said.

The US State Department ordered all embassy family members and non-emergency personnel in Libya to leave the nation, NBC News reported. It also urged Americans to delay travel to Libya or if already there to use extreme caution. Violence and looting could continue for several days, it warned.

The White House said on Monday that it was analyzing Seif’s 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. ….

The King of Kings’ Speech
Marwan Bishara / Al Jazeera

(February 22, 2011) — Muammar Gaddafi is dangerously in denial. Alas, he’s been that way for a long time.

Gaddafi has ruled Libya for the past 42 years with iron fist, but insists he has no official role and therefore couldn’t resign. Otherwise, he would have done that long ago! He thinks of himself as Zaim — a guru leader — or the king of kings of Africa as referred to himself repeatedly the last couple of years.

How do you resign from greatness, he wondered! After recounting his heroism, sacrifice and courage over the last few decades.

In reality, he wasted his country’s fortunes, misused its sources and violated its people. He misspent hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues from oil. He commands the state budget along with his family, and yet he insists he has no money, no fortune and no belonging to give away. Why would he need any of that when he de facto had claim on the whole country.

One is speechless listening to him telling Libyans: Go ahead take back your oil.

Like Father like Son
Gaddafi senior, like Gaddafi junior before him on Monday, went on rambling endlessly in Tuesday’s televised address, with little coherence, many threats and more political blackmail. Speaking to both domestic audience and Western decision makers, he raised the spectre of civil war, bloodbath and the threat of al-Qaeda takeover in various parts of the country. He warned he would use all or any means to prevent the breakdown of Libya.

Over the last few days, his regime has killed hundreds and reportedly using his air force to bomb Libyan cities, but insists he hasn’t ordered the use of force yet. But he did threaten to kill all those participating in the ongoing upheaval, in accordance with the Libyan law, as he put it. Worse, he threatened to burn the land, behaving as if his rule was a foreign occupation.

For many years, Qaddafi, his family and tribe have maintained their rule through the maintenance and deformation of the very tribal order he’s been warning against. He’s used political blackmail and financial bribes and unveiled threats of force to stay at the helm of the regime.

In the process, much of the country’s wealth was wasted. And so was any chance of development as his dictatorship suppressed pluralism, creativity and freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, unemployment in this “rentier economy” has shot from one-fourth to one-third unemployment year after year. Gaddafi has turned a country rich in oil to a poor country in more than one way.

Dangerous Call to Arms
While Gaddafi admitted that the police has refused to confront or shoot at the demonstrations, he called on his loyal and violent “popular committees” to defend his “revolution”, either individually or by joining forces with members of their tribes.

Certainly, the most deadly and dangerous force in the coming days will be those popular committees and their association with the private militias of Gaddafi’s regime, his sons, cousins and tribe. It seems that these well-armed and well-financed militias have been carrying out the worst violence against the peaceful demonstrators. Possibly aided by mercenaries from various neighbouring countries.

Unless the Libyan army puts an end to the violations and violence of the militias, the ongoing confrontation might continue to escalate.

Alas, there is little information as to today’s relationship between the army and the militias, but one suspects it shouldn’t be a good one as the militias have been used primarily to keep the army in check.

That’s why Arab and international decision makers must try and deter the escalation of violence by making it clear that those committing the crimes against the Libyan people will have no future in their country, but would eventually be punished for their crimes. sAnd that the army has a responsibility to protect the people and the unity of the country.