Libya protests spread to capital city of Tripoli

Libya protests reached the capital city of Tripoli Monday in the strongest challenge yet to leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi, who derives much of his support from the western part of the country.

AP Photo
Libya protests such as those pictured here from Sunday in Benghazi were reported to have spread overnight to the capital, Tripoli. Placards in Arabic read at center left: "Come on, Come on, Libyans. Today is the day of 1,200"; and center right: "Moammar Qaddafi shot the Libyan people with live bullets." The Associated Press obtained the photo from an individual in Libya but had no way of independently verifying the image's exact location or date.

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Libya protests intensified Monday as demonstrators reportedly burned government installations in Tripoli, the capital, despite leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi's son vowing to "eradicate" all of the regime's enemies in a televised speech Sunday night.

That protests have reached the western part of the country signifies that the resistance movement is broadening beyond its eastern base. (See a map of cities here.) Al Jazeera reports that eyewitnesses “are painting a picture of semi-chaos overnight in Tripoli.” Protesters have reportedly burned and broken into the state television building, the main courthouse, a large bank, an intelligence building, and two police stations.

Reuters notes that the Tripoli protests represent a serious turn against the regime:

Until Sunday evening, the challenge to [Qaddafi's] power was confined to the eastern Cyrenaica region around the city of Benghazi. That, for him, was manageable because the region had traditionally been ambivalent toward him. As long as it did not spread to the center and west of the country, analysts said there was no real challenge to his grip on power.

Those calculations are now being torn up. … The fact that the violence has jumped 1,000 km (600 miles) west from Benghazi to Tripoli means that [Qaddafi] is now in a real fight to hold onto power.

In the eastern city of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city and the starting point of the unrest, protesters today were looting weapons from the main security headquarters, according to witnesses, reports the Associated Press.

Human Rights Watch has reported at least 233 deaths, based on hospital reports, since the protests began last week. “Accounts of the use of live ammunition by security forces, including machine gun fire, against protesters near the Katiba in Benghazi on February 19, 2011, resulting in dozens of deaths and injuries, raise serious concern that the authorities are using unjustified and unlawful force,” the New York-based watchdog writes.

But Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, denied the high death tolls reported by foreign agencies, now widely at more than 200 killed.

“We will keep fighting until the last man standing, even to the last woman standing ... We will not leave Libya to the Italians or to the Turks,” he said in his Sunday night speech, warning that continued protests could send the country into civil war and open it to foreign invasion. “Our Army will be in Libya, and Muammar Qaddafi will be in it until the last moment ... We will eradicate them [enemies] all."

Read a Reuters speech transcript here.

Reuters also notes that the US on Sunday issued its strongest condemnation yet of the Libyan regime’s crackdown on protesters but stopped short of calling for a change in government. The State Department says it has voiced strong objections against the “use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators” as the country is caught in the rise of protests in the Arab world following regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt.

But Shashank Joshi, an associate fellow at the defense think tank Royal United Services Institute, writes for the BBC that what sets Libya apart from Egypt and Tunisia are its repressive measures and the military's loyalty to Qaddafi, rather than the people.

More broadly, Libya is amongst the most repressive countries in the region. Freedom House rates its political and civil liberties at the worst possible score, and freedoms of expression, assembly and belief are given short shrift. …

But the pattern differs from that seen in Egypt and Tunisia. In both of those countries, the military judged that it would swing against the regime when the alternative – shooting at fellow citizens – appeared so unpalatable as to threaten the militaries' status in their respective societies and risk a disintegration of military command. …

In part, this [difference] rests on the [Libyan] regime's assumption of loyalty from the security forces, bound tighter to the regime than their Egyptian counterparts and lacking the same prestige amongst their people that served as a check on the young officers in Tahrir Square.

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