Playing Counterstrike in a land with a population of 6.4 million. That
is not that much bigger than Sabah.
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* The Wall Street Journal
* MIDDLE EAST NEWS
* FEBRUARY 21, 2011, 2:12 P.M. ET
Libya Violence Spirals
By CHARLES LEVINSON and TAHANI KARRAR-LEWSLEY
CAIRO—Unrest in Libya spiraled into open deadly confrontation Monday,
with an international umbrella group of Libyan opposition parties
reporting that hundreds of thousands of people were on their way to
the country's capital as government forces shelled protesters by air.
Amateur footage shows protests spreading to Libya's capital city while
Gaddafi's son called on the nation to work with the regime to "create
a new Libya".
The unrest came after the son of leader Moammar Gadhafi addressed
Libyans early Monday morning and blamed unrest on foreign agents, drug
dealers and Islamic radicals, warning that the regime's fall would
bring poverty and civil war on Libya.
Col. Gadhafi's 38-year-old son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi said in a
defiant, rambling and confused speech early Monday morning on state
television that his father, backed by the army, was leading the battle
against those seeking to destroy Libya. "Moammar Gadhafi is in Tripoli
leading the battle," the younger Gadhafi said in a bid to dispel
rumors reported earlier by Arab satellite channels that the Libyan
leader had fled the country for South America. Such reports, which
couldn't be verified, continued Monday.
Residents in Tripoli said military troop transport helicopters were
conducting frequent flights Monday afternoon, taking off from the east
of Tripoli from the direction of the military airport there and flying
southwest of the capital. Also, residents reported that several
Antonov military cargo planes were flying over Tripoli, moving in the
direction of the Mitiga military airbase on the east side of town.
Two residents in Tripoli said they saw black African soldiers deplane
from the military transport flights, wearing blue and green special
forces uniforms. It is unclear where the troops came from, the
The residents said crowds of people supporting Col. Gadhafi have
entered the downtown Green Square and chanting for the need for
stability in the country. "They have come in strong numbers. It
doesn't feel safe there right now," said Walid, a Tripoli resident.
In the Gargash neighborhood of the capital, two buildings housing
Libyan television channels—the Al Shababiya satellite channel and
Libya's Channel 2 state television—have been looted and burned, these
residents said. Those channels stopped transmission for a short time
early Monday morning but came back on the air, presumably from
different locations, according to residents.
Attempts to call Libyan telephones were unsuccessful late Monday. Al
Jazeera news service reported that land and mobile communications from
the country had been cut.
Human Rights Watch said it had confirmed 233 deaths in protests so
Tawfiq Alghazwani, a Dublin-based member of the National Congress of
Libyan Opposition, an umbrella group of opponents of Mr. Gadhafi's
regime, said he expected the death toll to rise considerably amid
reports the government forces were shooting demonstrators from the
ground and air.
"We are hearing Gadhafi's airplanes are shelling," said Mr.
Alghazwani, who has based his reports on witness accounts from around
Libya. He has reported heavy violence in the eastern part of the
country, a traditional stronghold of the opposition.
View Full Image
Still image from a video footage shows Libya's leader Moammar Gadhafi
gesturing to his supporters during a rally in Nalut, Feb. 19.
* U.S.: Punish Officials Responsible for Violence
* Companies Suspend Libya Operations
* Earlier: Nearly 100 Killed in Libya Crackdown
* Interactive: Uprising in the Middle East
Moammar Gadhafi's Libya
See some key dates in Col. Gadhafi's nearly 42-year reign.
Libya Protests Intensify
* More photos and interactive graphics
"Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators from outside Tripoli were
making their way to Tripoli to participate in the demonstrations," Mr.
Alghazwani added late Monday.
There were reports late Monday night that the city of Benghazi in the
east had fallen firmly into protesters' hands, after the last army
base in the city was stormed by protesters. Those reports couldn't be
In his long speech, Seif Gadhafi pledged to begin political reforms in
the country, including drafting a constitution and relaxing
restrictions on press and civil society. But he focused the majority
of his speech on blaming Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab and African
countries for sending agents to Libya to destroy the country and steal
its oil. He blamed Islamic radicals for much of the violence in the
eastern half of the country
He warned Libyans that Mr. Gadhafi's ouster after 42 years in power
would lead the country into civil war and a "spiral of violence worse
A senior U.S. administration official said the White House is
analyzing the speech "to see what possibilities it contains for
meaningful reform." The official added: "We will seek clarification
from senior Libyan officials, as we continue to raise with them the
need to avoid violence against peaceful protesters and respect
The 40-minute, prerecorded speech came as his father's hold on the
country appeared to be slipping away, with reports of violence and
unrest in the capital Tripoli escalating and the hold of the police
and army in the country seemed to be evaporating.
The Tripoli residents reported gunfire in the capital Monday and
increasing numbers of protesters taking to the streets. The antiregime
protests that swept about 10 cities across the country last week had
been largely absent from Tripoli until Sunday, when thousands of
protesters took to the streets in an attempt to take over the central
Green Square from a crowd of regime supporters, according to the
Some were trying organize new protests Monday. "This morning, the
situation is insecure, there are some people that are saying Green
Square has no forces and people are trying to organize another
demonstration in the afternoon," said Mohamed, a Tripoli resident.
Tripoli resident Walid said he and a handful of his friends had gone
to the square on Sunday, chanting and protesting against the
government. He said that by Sunday afternoon the crowd at the square
was in the thousands and was mostly comprised of men under 30 years of
In the late afternoon, gunshots rang out in the crowd, he said. "No
one could tell where the bullets were coming from. Bullets were flying
in the air and bodies were falling," Walid said.
He said his friend saw two men standing next to him shot in the chest
Overnight, militia members without uniforms drove through the streets
of the capital with heavy machine guns mounted on the backs of Land
Cruiser sport-utility vehicles, residents said. Walid's neighbor, who
heard the militiamen speak, said they spoke with accents like those of
people from eastern Libya near the Egyptian border.
Walid said that the mood in Tripoli is turning against the government
due to the bloodshed over the weekend. "We listened to Seif al-Islam
but he was speaking only lies. We are at a point of no return. Now,
they are killing Libyans. We don't trust him and his family. We've
known them for 40 years. He [Col. Ghadhafi] would rather kill us than
talk with us."
Protests also sprang up Sunday on the outskirts of Tripoli for the
first time since the unrest began five days ago, according to
residents. Though the protests were quickly quashed by security forces
deployed in force throughout the capital, the spread of unrest to Mr.
Gadhafi's center of power was a sign that demonstrations were gaining
momentum and no longer confined to the country's eastern half.
Late Sunday, the country's Warfala tribe, one of the largest among
Libya's population of 6.4 million, announced it was throwing its heft
behind the protesters, suggesting momentum was tipping further against
View Full Image
A video image broadcast on Libyan state television shows numerous
supporters cheering Col. Gadhafi at an event in Tripoli Saturday.
No Confirmation That Gadhafi Left Libya
Earlier in the day in eastern Libya, residents of several cities said
government security forces had withdrawn from the streets to their
bases, ceding all or parts of cities to protesters, at least for now.
Uprising in the Middle East
See photos from protests from Algeria to Yemen.
A look at the economic and political status of selected countries
facing unrest in North Africa and the Middle East.
Track demonstrations day by day.
* More photos and interactive graphics
In Baida, east of Benghazi and close to Libya's border with Egypt,
witnesses said local police turned their guns on the army's second
brigade after it deployed inside the city and fired live ammunition at
protesters. The local police's flip forced the surprised army forces
to withdraw to the airport on the city's outskirts, according to
Libyan state TV broadcast images of burning buildings and blamed the
"acts of sabotage and burning" on "foreign agents," echoing the
attempts made by other Arab leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and
Yemen to dismiss the domestic unrest.
Residents said it was the first time government media had acknowledged
the growing protests, suggesting the violence was spreading to the
point that the government had no choice but to address it directly.
The fiercest fighting appeared to be raging in Benghazi, Libya's
second-largest city, on the country's northeast coast. Benghazi
residents said some neighborhoods of the city had been consumed by
full-fledged urban warfare between protesters and progovernment
forces. Residents said pro-Gadhafi loyalists driving around in cars
fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at anyone in the
For the first time since protests started on Feb. 15, there were
numerous reports that protesters had seized weapons caches from
abandoned government bases and had gone on the offensive against
"The soldiers have fled and the citizens have taken their weapons,"
one resident of Benghazi said in a telephone interview. "Citizens now
have rocket-propelled grenades, Kalashnikovs and hand grenades. I can
hear the bullets now and RPGs and people beeping their car horn in
Fears of More Violence
Many residents and activists inside and outside Libya said they feared
the coming days could see a sharp escalation in violence.
"There are really no constraints at all on what Gadhafi can do and
we've reached the point where a lot of peaceful protesters are
starting to arm themselves to do battle," said Heba Morayef, a
researcher for Human Rights Watch following events in Libya.
A U.S. official said Sunday that the State Department checked and
couldn't confirm reports that Col. Gadhafi had left Libya. The
official said the U.S. has been in regular contact with Libyan
officials over the past two days, urging an end of the use of force.
But the official said Washington hasn't been in direct contact with
the Gadhafi family.
"We are continually assessing the situation on the ground and urging
restraint," said the senior U.S. official. The highest level contact
was Friday, the official said, when the State Department's Assistant
Secretary of State for Near East affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, called
Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa.
The U.S.'s ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, has been out of Tripoli
for more than a month in the wake of the leaking of diplomatic cables
by the Website WikiLeaks. In one of the cables, Mr. Cretz wrote to the
State Department about what he described as Col. Gadhafi's erratic
behavior, drawing a rebuke from the Libyan government. U.S. officials
said Mr. Cretz was recalled, in part, due to concerns about his
security in Tripoli.
Dirk Vandewalle, an expert on Libya's politics and history at
Dartmouth College, said that the government's security forces "are
known to be very vicious."
"No mater how high the human cost, they know they have to put these
demonstrations down, because if they fail, they're the ones that will
pay the highest price," he said. "They have absolutely nothing to
The country's eastern half, of which Benghazi is the hub, has a long
history of resistance to outsiders and of friction with Mr. Gadhafi's
government in Tripoli.
Since taking power in a coup in 1969, Mr. Gadhafi has sidelined the
region's tribes in favor of his own Qatatfa tribe in the competition
for government posts. Though much of the country's oil wealth is in
the east, the territory sees a disproportionately low share of state
investment and resources.
The current unrest traces its roots back to an uprising by student
Islamists in the 1990s that Mr. Gadhafi viciously suppressed. Mr.
Gadhafi deployed the army's feared second brigade, commanded by one of
his sons, Khamis, against the students. Those who weren't killed in
the ensuing mayhem were thrown in jail, many of them in Tripoli's Abu
About a year later, in 1996, prisoners at Abu Salim, many of whom were
from Benghazi, launched an uprising. The regime took no mercy on the
prison rebels. The ensuing bombardment left 1,200 prisoners dead,
according to Human Rights Watch.
Ever since, the "Abu Salim massacre," as it is known to many Libyans,
has been a rallying cry for activists and opposition in Libya, and a
thorn in the regime's side.
The protests now shaking the country first flared outside Benghazi's
courthouse on Feb. 15 after security forces arrested two outspoken
members of the families of victims of the Abu Salim incident in 1996,
as well as a human-rights lawyer, pushing their demands for
compensation from the government, according to human-rights activists.
The early days of protest saw scattered violence. On Saturday, the
violence escalated dramatically, according to residents of Benghazi
and human-rights activists. Residents finished burying one of the
early victims of the protests in Benghazi. As they marched from the
graveyard and neared an army base in downtown Benghazi, soldiers
opened fire with machine guns, according to numerous accounts from
"It's like a guerrilla war," a female resident of Benghazi said Sunday
morning. "There is a battle going on, and sometimes one part is
controlled by the protesters, and sometimes other parts are. There are
corpses in the street."
On Sunday, several residents said the base appeared to be the last
bastion where government forces were concentrated in Benghazi.
"Neither side has complete control of Benghazi," said a student in
Benghazi who would identify himself only as Abdullah. He said the
government had cut electricity in parts of the city. He said he had
seen 13 dead bodies in just one part of the city.
The Internet remains down in most of the country after the government
shut down servers early Saturday morning, according to Renesys, an
Internet access watchdog. Journalists were banned from entering the
country or reporting on events, making it impossible to confirm many
of the reports from residents.
Residents reached by phone were gripped by fear, unwilling to give
their names over the telephone for fear that the government was
monitoring phone calls. A Libyan journalist in Tripoli said some of
his colleagues who had spoken with Arab TV stations had been arrested
within minutes of speaking on air.
Oil is at the heart of the Libyan economy. The oil sector contributes
about 95% of export earnings and 60% of public-sector wages, according
to economists. According to the 2008 BP Statistical Energy Survey,
Libya had proven oil reserves of 41.464 billion barrels at the end of
2007, or 3.34% of the world's reserves.
—Margaret Coker, Adam Entous and Jay Solomon contributed to this
Write to Charles Levinson at email@example.com