Hundreds dead as Kaddafi uses violence against protesters; son’s threat of “rivers of blood” escalated the protests; Libyan UN delegation defects and calls for Kaddafi to step down; protesters claim to be in control of Benghazi, Libya’s second city

Meanwhile, the Obama administration, which told Mubarak exactly what he must do (step down “now”) and which has directly supported the lawless protesters in Wisconsin, has issued an anodyne statement on the violence in Libya that doesn’t directly criticize Kaddafi.

Here is the lead story in today’s New York Times:

Qaddafi’s Grip Falters as His Forces Take On Protesters

CAIRO—The faltering government of the Libyan strongman, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, struck back at mounting protests against his 40-year rule as security forces and militiamen backed by helicopters and warplanes besieged parts of the capital on Monday, according to witnesses and news reports from Tripoli.

By Monday night, witnesses said, the streets of Tripoli were thick with special forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi as well as mercenaries. Roving the streets in trucks, they shot freely as planes dropped what witnesses described as “small bombs” and helicopters fired on protesters.

Hundreds of Qaddafi supporters took over the central Green Square in the capital after truckloads of militiamen arrived and opened fire on protesters, scattering them. Residents said they now feared even emerging from their houses.

“It was an obscene amount of gunfire,” said one witness. “They were strafing these people. People were running in every direction.”

The police stood by and watched, the witness said, as the militiamen, still shooting, chased after the protesters. The death toll could not be determined.

The escalation of the conflict came after six days of revolt that began in Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi, where hundreds of people were killed in clashes with security forces, according to witnesses. Human rights activists outside the country said they had confirmed more than 220 deaths. The rebellion is the latest and bloodiest so far of the uprisings that have swept across the Arab world with surprising speed in recent weeks, toppling autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia, and challenging others in Bahrain and Yemen.

The day had begun with growing signs that Colonel Qaddafi’s grip on power might be slipping, with protesters in control of Libya’s second-largest city, his security forces pulled back to key locations in the capital as government buildings smoldered, and a growing number of officials and military personnel defecting to join the revolt.

But the violence Colonel Qaddafi unleashed Monday afternoon on Tripoli demonstrated that he was willing to shed far more blood than the deposed rulers of either neighboring Egypt or Tunisia in his effort to hold on to power.

Two residents said planes had been landing for 10 days ferrying mercenaries from African countries to an air base in Tripoli. The mercenaries had done much of the shooting, which began Sunday night, they said. Some forces were using particularly lethal, hollow-point bullets, they said.

“The shooting is not designed to disperse the protesters,” said one resident, who wanted to be identified only as Waleed, fearing for his security. “It is meant to kill them.”

“This is not Ben Ali or Mubarak,” he added, referring to the deposed leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. “This man has no sense of humanity.”

Colonel Qaddafi, for his part, remained largely out of sight. Around 2 a.m. on Tuesday, after a rainy day, he appeared on state television for about 30 seconds, holding an umbrella up through the open door of a passenger car. He denied rumors that he had fled to Venezuela and called the cable news channels covering Libya “dogs.”

As rioters overwhelmed the streets around 1 a.m. on Monday, Colonel Qaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, delivered a rambling but bellicose speech threatening Libyans with the prospect of civil war and “rivers of blood” if they turned away from his father.

Apparently enraged by the speech, protesters converged on Green Square soon after and clashed with heavily armed riot police officers for several hours, witnesses in Tripoli said by telephone.

By dawn in Tripoli, police stations and government buildings—including the Hall of the People, where the legislature meets—were in flames. Debris fires from the rioting the night before burned at many intersections.

Most stores and schools were closed, and long lines were forming for a chance to buy bread or gas. Protesters had torn down or burned the posters of Colonel Qaddafi that were once ubiquitous in the capital, witnesses said.

To the east, protesters in control of Benghazi flew an independence flag over the rooftop of the courthouse and displayed the scene online in a video. A crowd celebrated what they called “the fall of the regime in their city.”

“We have liberated the east areas,” said Fathi Terbil, a prominent opposition lawyer in Benghazi, over a live, online stream that he calls the Free Libya Radio. “We are liberating, we are not overtaking. Now we need to go to Tripoli and liberate Tripoli.” Protesters issued a list of demands calling for a secular interim government led by the army in cooperation with a council of Libyan tribes.

In a sign of growing cracks within the government, several senior officials broke with Colonel Qaddafi. The Quryna newspaper, which has ties to Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, reported that the justice minister, Mustafa Abud al-Jeleil, had resigned in protest over the deadly response to the demonstrations.

And in New York, the Libyan delegation to the United Nations defected as well. The deputy ambassador and more than a dozen members of the Libyan mission to the United Nations called upon Colonel Qaddafi to step down and leave the country in a letter drafted Monday.

“He has to leave as soon as possible,” said the deputy ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, paraphrasing the letter. “He has to stop killing the Libyan people.”

He urged other nations to join in that request, saying he feared there could be a large-scale massacre in Tripoli and calling on “African nations” to stop sending what he called “mercenaries” to fight on behalf of Colonel Qaddafi’s government.

Mr. Dabbashi said he had not seen the Libyan ambassador since Friday and did not know his whereabouts or whether he shared the opinion of many in his mission. But, Mr. Dabbashi said, the United Nations mission represents the people, not Colonel Qaddafi.

Abdel Monem al-Howni, Libya’s representative to the Arab League, also resigned. “I no longer have any links to this regime, which lost all legitimacy,” he said in a statement reported by news agencies. He also called what is happening in Libya “genocide.”

Al Manara, an opposition Web site, reported that a senior military official, Col. Abdel Fattah Younes in Benghazi, resigned, and the newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported that Colonel Qaddafi had ordered that one of his top generals, Abu Bakr Younes, be put under house arrest after disobeying an order to use force against protesters in several cities.

Two Libyan fighter pilots ordered to bomb protesters changed their course and instead defected to Malta, according to Maltese government officials quoted by Reuters.

The Libyan government has tried to impose a blackout on information from the country. Foreign journalists cannot enter. Internet access has been almost totally severed, though some protesters appear to be using satellite connections. Much news about what is going on came from telephone interviews with people inside the country. Several residents reported that cellphone service was down, and even landline phone service sporadic.

The United States ordered all nonessential personnel and family members at its embassy to leave the country.

Several foreign oil and gas companies were moving on Monday to evacuate some workers as well. The Quryna newspaper said that protests have occurred in Ras Lanuf, an oil town where some workers were being assembled to defend a refinery complex from attacks.

Meanwhile, Libyans from other cities—Benghazi and Misrata—were reported to be heading to Tripoli to join the battle against the government forces, said Mansour O. El-Kikhia, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Texas, Austin, who had talked to people inside the country.

“There are dead on the streets, you cannot even pick them up,” he said by e-mail. “The army is just shooting at everybody. That has not deterred the people from continuing.”

Though the outcome of the battle is impossible to determine, some protesters said the bloodshed in Tripoli only redoubled their determination.

“He will never let go of his power,” said one, Abdel Rahman. “This is a dictator, an emperor. He will die before he gives an inch. But we are no longer afraid. We are ready to die after what we have seen.”

- end of initial entry -

John P. writes:

A minor typo in the title … you have “delegration” instead of “delegation.”

LA replies:

I like that: delegration. We should come up with a definition for it.

Vivek G. writes:

What Col. Qaddafi and his son are doing to the protesters in Libya for defying their leadership is surely cruel and inhuman. However, if we ask a question, what would prophet Muhammad do if he found people defying his “prophet-hood,” we get the unmistakable answer that he would do exactly what the colonel and his son are doing. And isn’t Muhammad supposed to be a role model for all Muslims?

LA replies:

And isn’t Islam a great religion that we should respect and honor? So how can we condemn Kaddafi for doing what his religion mandates, which is to emulate the Prophet in all things?

Vivek G. writes:

This is why, to generalize what you say over and over again, Muslims do not belong to any non-Muslim society. And the least a non-Muslim society can do to avoid its own destruction at the hands of Muslims is to implement Separationism, though in my personal opinion, it too may not eventually suffice. However at the moment, amongst all workable solutions, there are at least the following three selling points of Separationism:

A. It is the least that is necessary. Anything less, and it’s not a solution.

B. It is the least in terms of “cost” (in terms of life and property) for the Muslims. In other words, it is the most favorable for Muslims. Any other solution, where non-Muslims survive, is going to be much harsher on Muslims.

C. It is the least costly in terms of life for the non-Muslims. (B) and (C) put together make it the most workable non-violent solution as well.

Thus, if there is ever a reasonable pan-Islamic leader, he would tell his people (all the Muslims in the world):

1. We are not compatible with non-Islam.

2. We do not want to modify Islam.

3. Therefore non-Muslims see us, correctly, as a perpetual mortal threat to their societies.

4. We cannot eliminate non-Islam. (We do not have that power.)

5. We do not want to be eliminated by non-Islam.

6. Therefore, the only option is to separate ourselves from non-Islam.

And this can possibly trigger a voluntary exodus of Muslims from all over the rest of the world towards the Arabistan. To me, it looks more and more obvious that broadly speaking there are only three possible outcomes of the present situation.

a. One pan-Islamic world! (No non-Muslims anywhere in the world.)

b. A world bereft of Islam. (No Muslims anywhere in the world.)

c. Muslims and non-Muslims separated into two different, so to speak, worlds!

Of course, this possibly is an over-simplified picture, and time alone will tell. But if someone conducted a simplified poll, which possibility would you choose among these three? I would answer: Definitely NOT (a), preferably (b), but am OK with (c). Liberals will most likely answer: Definitely NOT (b), don’t prefer (c), and Definitely don’t mind (a)? I also conjecture that you (LA) would answer: Definitely NOT (a), preferably (c), however if forced by circumstances, do not rule out (b).

My confusion is: How would your typical conservative answer the question?

Another important point is that much sooner rather than later we all will be required, so to speak, to vote for one of these three outcomes!

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 22, 2011 08:24 AM | Send

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