Like a contagion, the unrest which started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, seems to proliferating throughout the Middle East. One country after another, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Algeria, all are being beset by populations who have been harbouring for a long time the sentiment that enough is enough.
Six days ago, the protests came to Libya where Muammar Gaddafi has ruled for the past 42 years. The capital Tripoli and other cities like Bayda, Derna, Tobruk and Misrata became scenes of violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces. While the New York-based Human Rights Watch on Sunday is estimating the countrywide death toll at 104, Al Jazeera is reporting that residents say at least 200 people had died in the eastern city of Benghazi alone. It seems that Gaddafi, unlike Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, has no intention of going quietly. The CBC has reported: Witnesses told The Associated Press a mixture of special commandos, foreign mercenaries and Gadhafi loyalists went after demonstrators on Saturday with knives, assault rifles and heavy-calibre weapons.
Residents of the city of Benghazi are calling their city a war zone. Protests which began this past Monday after the arrest of a prominent lawyer, saw security forces kill several demonstrators. From there the situation spiralled out of control with residents apparently barricading the streets with overturned trash cans and debris while security forces confining themselves to two compounds.
On Saturday, a funeral held to honour protesters killed earlier in the week, came under attack by security forces. Firing high-calibre ammunition at protesters, the forces killed at least 15 people and injured scores of other people.
Apparently Libyan Muslim leaders have urged security forces to stop killing civilians but as the unrest spreads, will their words be heeded? Al Jazeera said of the city of Benghazi:
Ahmed, a Benghazi businessman who also gave only his first name, said hospitals in the city were overwhelmed with the number of dead and injured and were running out of blood.
“It’s a big, big massacre. We’ve never heard of anything like this before. It’s horrible,” he said.
“The shooting is still taking place right now. We’re about three kilometers away from it, and we saw this morning army troops coming into the city. You can hear the shooting now. They don’t care about us.”
According to reports, TV signals are being jammed and Internet access has been cut. Al Jazeera wrote that Massachusetts-based Arbor Networks said data collected from 30 internet service providers worldwide showed that online traffic in and out of Libya was disconnected abruptly at 2:15am local time on Saturday. As of Sunday, it was still possible to reach Libyans by phone, and some in Tripoli had internet access.
According to reports, forces have withdrawn in Bahrain and a dialogue has started between the protesters and the ruling royal family. The BBC makes an interesting comparison between the protests in Bahrain and Libya.
Whereas in Bahrain the main goal seems to have been to get rid of the prime minister and introduce more reforms rather than oust the entire royal family, in Libya the disaffected crowds quite simply want Col Gaddafi to go. It is very personal.
The BBC points out that outside influences, calls from the U.S. government and from Britain, have managed to calm the situation in Bahrain and hopefully led to negotiated solution to the protesters’ demands.
However in Libya, the situation is different. Gaddafi has always taken his own road and basically thumbed his nose at the rest of the world. His autocratic, no dictatorial regime has kept him power all this time and he has no intention of changing the iron fist approach to running his country. There can be no doubt that continued protests will see more bloodshed but l8ike Egypt, will the security forces become sick of fighting their own people.
ITN News – Feb 20/2011
YouTube footage purports to show anti-government protesters with gunshot wounds in Benghazi, Libya.
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