Libya's besieged leader, facing a rebel advance on Tripoli and possible international sanctions, also pledged a 150 percent increase in some government workers' wages.
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In an attempt to appease the masses – possibly inspired by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who promised his subject $36 billion in benefits to stave off any potential revolutionaries – Libya's besieged leader on Friday pledged a 150 percent increase in some government workers' wages and promised to give every family $400.
Libyan state television announced the wage increase and said each family would receive $400 to help them cope with the rising food prices. The broadcast aired shortly before Libyans went to mosques for Friday prayers. After prayers, antigovernment protesters are expected to continue demonstrating, reports MSNBC.
The announcement of financial incentives appeared to have little effect. Antigovernment forces claim to be taking control of areas throughout eastern Libya. They have already taken hold of Benghazi, the second-largest city in Libya and a longtime hub of government opposition. Even as large swaths of the country fall in to the hands of antigovernment forces, it appears that the Arab strongman who has ruled Libya for 41 years will not give up the capital city of Tripoli without a fight.
“If he lose [sic] control outside or not, to him the most important thing is my city, the capital Tripoli, and he doesn't want to let go. He doesn't understand. He doesn't care. He's just killing the people,” a woman in Tripoli told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The standoff may be coming soon. Violent clashes have come within 30 miles of the capital city. In the city of Zawiyah, one Libyan told Reuters that there was heavy fighting outside, but that security forces had been unable to penetrate the town.
“There are army and police checkpoints around Zawiyah but there is no presence inside. I just saw a few unarmed civilians,” Saeed Mustafa told Reuters.
Control of Benghazi and other parts of east Libya puts antigovernment supporters in control of critical oil reserves. Although mercenaries employed by Qaddafi have attacked two nearby cities in an attempt to quell the uprising, Sky News reports that rebels have managed to take control of a military airfield.
Humanitarian organizations say it is impossible to determine exactly how many people have died in the fighting. At least 300 deaths have been confirmed by Human Rights Watch, while the International Federation for Human Rights puts the death toll closer to 700 people. According to Gerrard Buffet, a French doctor in Benghazi who was interviewed by the British Broadcasting Corporation, the actual number may be much higher. In the east alone he estimates that as many as 2,000 people may have been killed.
In the face of increasing violence, the international community is preparing to take serious action. France and the UK are calling for the UN to approve an arms embargo and sanctions on Libya. President Barack Obama has consulted with European leaders and when asked if the US would consider military options, the president’s spokesman, Jay Carney, responded, “I'm not ruling anything out," The Wall Street Journal reports.
French officials have made similar calls to action. French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said, “We can't make do with speeches any more, we need to act.”