Libyan Protests Escalate With Fires, Gunfire Reported

Published on Monday 21st February 2011

Reports from Libya indicate the more than 40-year-rule of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is under siege from an escalating popular uprising that is turning violent and destructive.
Witnesses in the Libyan capital say the country's legislative branch is among government buildings on fire as opposition activist’s battle security forces and government supporters. Gunfire has been reported in the capital.
The reports from Tripoli indicate an hour-by-hour surge in the uprising. There are reports of some officials fleeing the country. Some key cities are reported to be under control of anti-government protesters. Information is hard to come by because there are no foreign media outlets in Libya and Libyan television is under state control.
Monday, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights said at least nine Libyan cities, including Benghazi, Sirte and Misrata, were in the hands of the protesters.
Human Rights Watch said the death toll continues to rise.  It said at least 233 people have been killed in five days of violence.
Mr. Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam went on state television late Sunday to proclaim that his father remains in charge with military support in the face of the most serious anti-government revolt since the elder Gadhafi took power in a 1969 coup. Saif al-Islam Gadhafi vowed that the government will fight until "the last man, the last woman, and the last bullet" to stay in power.
Wagging his finger in a rambling address, the younger Gadhafi warned Libyans to stop the uprising or risk igniting a civil war that will drown the country in "rivers of blood" and lead to a return of colonial powers. He insisted that Libya is "not Egypt or Tunisia" - neighboring countries whose strongmen were swept from power in recent weeks.
Saif al-Islam Gadhafi blamed the protests that erupted in eastern Libya last Monday on a variety of culprits, including Libyan exiles, Islamists, foreign media, and drug abusers. But, he conceded that Libyan security forces had made some "mistakes" in cracking down on demonstrators because of a lack of training in dealing with such situations.  In a conciliatory move, the younger Gadhafi said the government is willing to begin a dialogue on political reforms, including a new constitution and confederate power structure.
In other developments Sunday, a representative of Libya's powerful Warfallah tribe said it has turned against Moammar Gadhafi and is siding with the opposition. Several Libyan diplomats also quit in protest at the government's violent crackdown, including the Libyan representative to the Arab League and the Libyan ambassador to India.
Libyan authorities have cut Internet and some telephone services in response to the protests, making it difficult to independently verify reports of violence. But foreign media organizations have been able to speak to witnesses in the country through satellite phones and other connections.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.


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