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23 February 2011

Gaddafi's Libya teeters

Al Jazeera (television news, Qatar)
Wednesday 23 February 2011 07:55 GMT

Gaddafi defiant
as state teeters

Libyan leader vows to 'fight on' as his government loses control of key parts in the country and as top officials quit.

Protesters are said to be in control of several cities in Libya's east [Reuters]


Muammer Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, remains defiant in the face of mass protests calling for his resignation, saying that he intends to remain in power as parts of the country's state structure appear to be disintegrating around him.

Some fear that Libya's state apparatus, once seen as a powerful and coherent entity, is facing collapse as key officials quit the government, with some joining the protesters, and as international isolation mounts.

Speaking in a televised address on Tuesday evening, Gaddafi vowed to fight on and die a "martyr" on Libyan soil. He called on his supporters to take back the streets on Wednesday from protesters who are demanding that he step down.

He also claimed that he had "not yet ordered the use of force", warning that "when I do, everything will burn".

Gaddafi, who termed the protests an "armed rebellion", said that security cordons set up by police and the military would be lifted on Wednesday, telling his supporters to "go out and fight [anti-government protesters]".

He blamed the uprising in the country on "Islamists", and warned that an "Islamic emirate" has already been set up in Bayda and Derna, where he threatened the use of extreme force.

"I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents ... I will die as a martyr at the end," Gaddafi, who has been in power for 41 years, said.

Several hundred people held a pro-Gaddafi rally in central Tripoli on Tuesday night, cheering the Libyan leader as he made his speech.

Demonstrators in the eastern city of Benghazi, which is now controlled by anti-government protesters, angrily threw shoes at a screen showing the address.

'Indications of state collapse'

While Gaddafi has insisted that the country is stable, however, international leaders have warned that the growing violence and increasing numbers of government and military renouncements of Gaddafi's leadership indicate that the state structure is in critical danger.

William Hague, the British foreign minister, has said that there are "many indications of the structure of the state collapsing in Libya".

"The resignation of so many ambassadors and diplomats, reports of ministers changing sides within Libya itself, shows the system is in a very serious crisis," he said. 

Libyan diplomats across the world have either resigned in protest at the use of violence (including the alleged use of warplanes on civilian targets) against citizens, or renounced Gaddafi's leadership, saying that they stand with the protesters.

Late on Tuesday night, General Abdul-Fatah Younis, the country's interior minister, became the latest government official to stand down, saying that he was resigning to support what he termed as the "February 17 revolution".

He urged the Libyan army to join the people and their "legitimate demands".

Earlier, Mustapha Abdeljalil, the country's justice minister, had resigned in protest at the "excessive use of violence" against protesters, and diplomats at Libya's mission to the United Nations called on the Libyan army to help remove "the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi".

A group of army officers has also issued a statement urging soldiers to "join the people" and remove Gaddafi from power.

Protesters 'take' towns

Swathes of the country now appear to be out of Gaddafi's control. Benghazi, the country's second largest city, was "taken" by protesters after days of bloody clashes, and soldiers posted there are reported to have deserted and joined the anti-government forces.

The Libyan government has accused Qatar, Al Jazeera's host country, of spreading "lies" and fomenting unrest

Several other cities in the country's east are said to be under the control of protesters, including Tobruk, where a former army major told the Reuters news agency: "All the eastern regions are out of Gaddafi's control ... the people and the army are hand-in-hand here."

The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights says that protesters also control Sirte, Misrata, Khoms, Tarhounah, Zenten, Al-Zawiya and Zouara.

The Warfalla tribe, the largest in the country, has also joined calls from other tribes for Gaddafi to stand down.

The country is also facing growing international isolation, and late on Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council expressed "grave concern" at the situation in the country, condemning the use of force against civilians.

A statement signed by all 15 members of the council said that the UNSC "deplored the repression against peaceful demonstrators, and expressed deep regret at the deaths of hundreds of civilians".

The council called for "steps to address the legitimate demands of the population".

On Tuesday, Peru severed diplomatic ties with Gaddafi's government, while several countries, including Britain, the United States, Italy, France, Turkey, India, Sri lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Greece have put into place arrangements for the evacuation of their citizens from the country.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said on Tuesday that the use of violence was "completely unacceptable", while Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said it "amounted to [Gaddafi] declaring war on his own people".

Violence rages

The UNSC's statement stopped short of declaring Libyan airspace a no-fly zone, after diplomats called for the step to be taken following reports that warplanes had been used throughout Monday to bomb civilian targets in Tripoli.

Violence has continued to rage in Libya since an anti-government crackdown on demonstrations began on February 17. Human Rights Watch, a US-based rights watchdog, says that at least 295 people have been killed since violence began.

Naji Abu-Ghrouss, an interior ministry official, said 197 civilians and 111 in the military have been killed in violence so far.

Witnesses in Tripoli and other cities have reported that foreign mercenaries have been patrolling the streets, firing indiscriminately on those they encounter in a bid to keep people off the streets. In addition, air strikes have also been reported against civilian targets.

The government claims that while warplanes have been used in recent days, they were targeting arms depots and that the targets were not in residential areas.

On Tuesday, Navi Pillay, the UN's high commissioner for human rights, said that widespread and systematic attacks against civilians "may amount to crimes against humanity".

Protesters and tribesmen in Ajdabiya, a key city near the country's oil fields, say they are protecting facilities and fields.

On Tuesday, two international oil companies - Italy's Eni and Spain's Repsol-YPF - shut down operations, while Royal Dutch Shell said that it was preparing to evacuate employees.
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