Monday, February 28, 2011

Gaddafi vows to crush protesters

Libyan leader speaks to supporters in the capital's Green Square, saying
he will arm people against protesters.

Feb 25, 2011 Al Jazeera

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has appeared in Tripoli's Green
Square, to address a crowd of his supporters in the capital.

The speech, which also referred to Libya's war of independence with Italy,
appeared to be aimed at rallying what remains of his support base, with
specific reference to the country's youth.

"We can defeat any aggression if necessary and arm the people," Gaddafi
said, in footage that was aired on Libyan state television on Friday.

"I am in the middle of the people.. we will fight … we will defeat them if
they want … we will defeat any foreign aggression.

"Dance … sing and get ready … this is the spirit … this is much better
than the lies of the Arab propaganda," he said.

His last speech, on Thursday evening had been made by phone, leading to
speculation about his physical condition.

The footage aired on Friday, however, showed Gaddafi standing above the
square, waving his fist as he spoke.

Tarik Yousef, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington,
told Al Jazeera that most of the individuals on Green Square are genuine
Gaddafi supporters.

"Most of these people have known nothing else but Gaddafi. They don’t know
any other leader. And many of them stand to lose when Gaddafi falls,"
Yousef said.

"I am not completely surprised that they still think that he is the right
man for Libya. What is striking is that [Gaddafi] did not talk about all
the liberated cities in his country.

"This was a speech intended show his defiance and to rally against what he
calls foreign interference. But even his children have admitted that the
east of the country is no longer under the regime's control."

Gaddafi's speech came on a day when tens of thousands of Libyans in
Tripoli and elsewhere in the country took to the streets calling for an
end to his rule.

Heavy gunfire

As demonstrations began in Tripoli following the midday prayer, security
forces loyal to Gaddafi reportedly began firing on them. There was heavy
gunfire in various Tripoli districts including Fashloum, Ashour, Jumhouria
and Souq Al, sources told Al Jazeera.

"The security forces fired indiscriminately on the demonstrators," said a
resident of one of the capital's eastern suburbs.

"There were deaths in the streets of Sug al-Jomaa," the resident said.

The death toll since the violence began remains unclear, though on
Thursday Francois Zimeray, France's top human rights official, said it
could be as high as 2,000 people killed.
Follow more of Al Jazeera's special coverage here

But Saif al-Islam, Muammar Gaddafi's son, has called on the European Union
to send a fact-finding team to Libya.

"We are not afraid of the facts. We are worried about rumours and lies,"
he said.

Violence flared up even before the Friday sermons were over, according to
a source in Tripoli.

"People are rushing out of mosques even before Friday prayers are finished
because the state-written sermons were not acceptable, and made them even
more angry," the source said.

Libyan state television aired one such sermon on Friday, in an apparent
warning to protesters.

"As the prophet said, if you dislike your ruler or his behaviour, you
should not raise your sword against him, but be patient, for those who
disobey the rulers will die as infidels," the speaker told his
congregation in Tripoli.

During Friday prayers, a religious leader in the town of Mselata, 80km to
the east of Tripoli, called for the people to fight back.

Immediately after the prayers, more than 2,000 people, some of them armed
with rifles taken from the security forces, headed towards Tripol to
demand the fall of Gaddafi, Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri reported.

The group made it as far as the city of Tajoura, where it was stopped by a
group loyal to Gaddafi.

They were checked by foreign, French-speaking mercenaries and gunfire was
exchanged. There were an unknown number of casualties, Moshiri reported,
based on information from witnesses who had reached on the Libyan-Tunisian

Foreign mercenaries

There have been frequent reports of foreign mercenaries working for
Gaddafi against the protesters, but their nationality remains uncertain.

The government of Chad has moved to counter allegations that Chadian
mercenaries were being recruited to go to Libya.

"International media inundates the public opinion with information
alleging some Chadian would be mercenaries currently acting in Libya,"
Moussa Mahamat Dago, the Chad foreign ministry’s general secretary, said
on Friday.

"We want to formally and categorically deny all those allegations that are
dangerous and could pose a material and physical danger to the many
Chadians living in Libya for years and always in a peaceful way."

People in eastern parts of the country, a region believed to be largely
free from Gaddafi's control, held protests in support for the
demonstrations in the capital.

"Friday prayer in Benghazi have seen thousands and thousands on the
streets. All the banners are for the benefit of the capital, [they are
saying] 'We're with you, Tripoli'," Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee reported.

In the town of Derna, protesters held banners with the messages such as
"We are one Tribe called Libya, our only capital is Tripoli, we want
freedom of speech".

Al Jazeera's correspondent in Libya reported on Friday that army
commanders in the east who had renounced Gaddafi's leadership had told her
that military commanders in the country's west were beginning to turn
against him.

They warned, however, that the Khamis Brigade, an army special forces
brigade that is loyal to the Gaddafi family and is equipped with
sophisticated weaponry, is currently still fighting anti-government

The correspondent, who cannot be named for security reasons, said that
despite the gains, people are anxious about what Gaddafi might do next,
and the fact that his loyalists were still at large.

"People do say that they have broken the fear factor, that they have made
huge territorial gains,” she said. "[Yet] there's no real celebration or
euphoria that the job has been done."

On Friday morning, our correspondents reported quoting witnesses that the
town of Zuwarah had been abandoned by security forces and completely in
the hands of anti-Gaddafi protesters.

Checkpoints in the country's west on roads leading to the Tunisian border,
however, were still being controlled by Gaddafi loyalists.

In the east, similar checkpoints were manned by anti-Gaddafi forces, who
had set up a "humanitarian aid corridor" as well as a communications
corridor to the Egyptian border, our correspondent reported.

Thousands massed in Az Zawiyah's Martyr's Square after the attack, calling
on Gaddafi to leave office, and on Friday morning, explosions were heard
in the city.

Arms caches blown up

Witnesses say pro-Gaddafi forces were blowing up arms caches, in order to
prevent anti-government forces from acquiring those weapons.

Clashes were also reported in the city of Misurata, located 200km east of
Tripoli, where witnesses said a pro-Gaddafi army brigade attacked the
city's airport with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

They told Al Jazeera that pro-democracy protesters had managed to fight
off that attack. "Revolutionaries have driven out the security forces,"
they said, adding that "heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns" had
been used against them.

Mohamed Senussi, a resident of Misurata, said calm had returned to the
city after the "fierce battle" near the airport.

"The people's spirits here are high, they are celebrating and chanting
'God is Greatest'," he told the Reuters news agency by telephone.

Another witness warned, however, that protesters in Misurata felt
"isolated" as they were surrounded by nearby towns still in Gaddafi's

Protesters and air force personnel who have renounced Gaddafi's leadership
also overwhelmed a nearby military base where Gaddafi loyalists were
taking refuge, according to a medical official at the base.

They disabled air force fighter jets at the base so that they could not be
used against protesters.

Oil terminal

Soldiers helped anti-Gaddafi protesters take the oil terminal in the town
of Berga, according to Reuters.

The oil refinery in Ras Lanuf has also halted its operations and most
staff has left, according to a source in the company.

Support for Gaddafi within the country's elite continues to decline. On
Friday, Abdel Rahman Al Abar, Libya's Chief Prosecutor, became one of the
latest top officials to resign in protest over the bloodshed.

"What happened and is happening are massacres and bloodshed never
witnessed by the Libyan people. The logic of power and violence is being
imposed instead of seeking democratic, free, and mutual dialogue," he

His comments came as UN's highest human-rights body held a special session
on Friday to discuss what it's chief had earlier described as possible
"crimes against humanity" by the Gaddafi government.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, urged world leaders
to "step in vigorously" to end the violent crackdown.

The United Nations Security Council was to hold a meeting on the situation
in Libya later in the day, with sanctions the possible imposition of a
no-fly zone over the country under Chapter VII of the UN charter on the

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