Deadly violence grips Libya as unrest continues across region

15:34, February 22, 2011      

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A Heavy death toll was reported in Libya over the past week in the biggest uprising the Northern African country has witnessed since Colonel Muammar Gaddafi took power 41 years ago.

Yet the embattled Libyan leader, facing pressure both from the streets and from within his ruling echelon, remained defiant, saying in a brief appearance on state TV early Tuesday that he was still in Tripoli and that he had wanted to meet his supporters at a local square but was held back by rain.

He urged the public not to believe what state TV had earlier referred to as the "malicious rumor" that Gaddafi had left the country for Venezuela.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa had confirmed in a phone call with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro that the Libyan leader had not left his country, and was still in Tripoli.

The statement also added that Maduro denounced British Foreign Secretary William Hague's "irresponsible remarks" on Monday that he had "some information" suggesting that Gaddafi was en route to Venezuela.

Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam told state TV on Monday that the country was approaching the brink of a civil war and that his father would "fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet."

Yet should protests stop, the government would carry out "historic reforms," he promised, adding that he had formed a commission to probe the deaths during the unrest.


Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV said that in Tripoli on Monday, Libyan forces hurled hand grenades at anti-government demonstrators and warplanes bombed protesters en route to a local army base.

Citing eyewitnesses, the TV channel put the death toll on Monday alone at some 160. The number could not be immediately verified by other sources.

Meanwhile, Libyan state TV reported that security forces had stormed the hideouts of "saboteurs" in Tripoli on Monday and called upon local residents to stay home.

The flare-up of deadly violence in the capital came on the heels of bloody clashes in the east. In the city of Benghazi, protesters had overrun pro-government forces and claimed control of the city.

However, Seif al-Islam on Monday denied that the Libyan air force had bombarded protesters in Tripoli and Benghazi, saying that the targets were ammunition depots in remote areas.


Adding to the pressure on Gaddafi, some military and police units have sided with protesters, although Seif al-Islam stressed Monday that his father still had the army behind him.

Local newspaper Quryna reported that Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil had resigned in protest of "excessive use of force against unarmed protesters."

A group of Libyan Muslim scholars have also issued a fatwa, or a religious edict, urging all Muslims to join the protests against the Libyan leadership, according to Al-Jazeera TV.

Meanwhile, cracks also opened in the Libyan diplomatic corps stationed abroad. The country's permanent representative to the Arab League, Abdel Moneim al-Honi, told Al-Jazeera that he had resigned to "join the revolution."

He also said that he had "confirmed information" showing that the Libyan army chief "is now under house arrest."

At the UN headquarters in New York, the Libyan UN Mission on Monday called on the international community to step in and investigate what was happening in Libya.

"We are not resigning ... We are representing the Libyan people, we do not belong to the Gaddafi regime," deputy head Ibrahim Dabbashi told reporters.

Meanwhile, a few Libyan ambassadors, including those to the United States and India, have also reportedly quit and withdrawn their support from Gaddafi's government.


The bloody unrest in Libya has garnered a lot of attention from the broader international community.

The UN Security Council will meet Tuesday to discuss the situation in Libya, said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, adding that he had talked with Gaddafi and urged restraint.

Ban's spokesman said shortly earlier that the UN chief was "outraged" by reports that Libyan security forces were using warplanes and helicopters against demonstrators and called for "an immediate end to the violence."

Besides, the Qatari government has proposed that the Arab League hold an emergency meeting to discuss the Libya crisis.

The United States, the European Union and many other countries and international organizations have also expressed deep concern and stressed the need to stop violence immediately.

The ongoing turmoil, mixed with rampant looting and pillaging, have prompted many governments and multinational companies to issue travel alerts for Libya and dispatch aircraft and vessels to pull their nationals and employees out of the country.


Libya was the deadliest case among a series of uprisings rocking the Middle East and Northern Africa.

In Morocco, the Interior Ministry said Monday that five burned bodies were found in the northern town of Al-Hoceima at a bank set ablaze during the unrest following Sunday's demonstrations.

Across the several towns where protesters rallied, demanding political reform, a total of 128 people, including 115 security officers, were injured and some 120 people, including minors, were arrested, the ministry added.

Also on Monday, anti-government protests rattled Yemen's major provinces, leaving dozens injured, as tensions soared after President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced that he would not step down until rivals defeated him through ballots.

In Bahrain, hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the landmark Pearl Roundabout in the capital of Manama for the ninth day in a row, vowing that their demands, including resignation of the serving government and release of political prisoners, must be met before they would enter into talks with the Gulf state's monarchy, according to Al-Jazeera.

These anti-government movements, including those in some other countries in the region, burst out in the wake of the popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt that forced down their respective long-ruling leaders.

Source: Xinhua

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