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Qadhafi goes on Libyan TV amid wave of protests

Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi appeared to have lost the support of at least one major tribe, several military units and diplomats. File photo

Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi appeared to have lost the support of at least one major tribe, several military units and diplomats. File photo   | Photo Credit: Nasser Nasser

Deep rifts opened in Muammar Qadhafi’s regime, with Libyan government officials at home and abroad resigning, air force pilots defecting and a bloody crackdown on protest in the capital of Tripoli, where cars and buildings were burned. Mr. Qadhafi went on state TV early Tuesday to attempt to show he was still in charge.

World leaders expressed outrage Monday at the “vicious forms of repression” used against the demonstrators.

The longest serving Arab leader appeared briefly on TV to dispel rumours that he had fled. Sitting in a car in front of what appeared to be his residence and holding an umbrella out of the passenger side door, he told an interviewer that he had wanted to go to the capital’s Green Square to talk to his supporters, but the rain stopped him.

“I am here to show that I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Don’t believe those misleading dog stations,” Mr. Qadhafi said, referring to the media reports that he had left the country. The video clip and comments lasted less than a minute, unusual for the mercurial leader, who is known for rambling speeches that often last hours.

Pro-Qadhafi militia drove through Tripoli with loudspeakers and told people not to leave their homes, witnesses said, as security forces sought to keep the unrest that swept eastern parts of the country, leaving the second-largest city of Benghazi in protesters’ control, from overwhelming the capital of two million people.

State TV said the military had “stormed the hideouts of saboteurs” and urged the public to back security forces. Protesters called for a demonstration in Tripoli’s central Green Square and in front of Mr. Qadhafi’s residence, but witnesses in various neighbourhoods described a scene of intimidation - helicopters hovering above the main seaside boulevard and pro-Qadhafi gunmen firing from moving cars and even shooting at the facades of homes to terrify the population.

Youths trying to gather in the streets scattered and ran for cover amid gunfire, according to several witnesses, who like many reached in Tripoli by The Associated Press spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. They said people wept over bodies of the dead left in the street.

Warplanes swooped low over Tripoli in the evening and snipers took up position on roofs, apparently to stop people outside the capital from joining protests, according to Mohammed Abdul-Malek, a London-based opposition activist in touch with residents.

Mr. Qadhafi appeared to have lost the support of at least one major tribe, several military units and his own diplomats, including Libya’s ambassador in Washington, Ali Adjali. Deputy U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi accused the longest-serving Arab leader of committing genocide against his own people in the current crisis.

The eruption of turmoil in the capital after seven days of protests and bloody clashes in Libya’s eastern cities sharply escalated the challenge to Mr. Qadhafi. His security forces have unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region, which toppled leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. At least 233 people have been killed so far, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. The difficulty in getting information from Libya made obtaining a precise death toll impossible.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Mr. Qadhafi to “stop this unacceptable bloodshed” and said the world was watching the events “with alarm”.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting neighbouring Egypt, called the crackdown “appalling”.

“The regime is using the most vicious forms of repression against people who want to see that country, which is one of the most closed and one of the most autocratic, make progress,” he said.

Communications to Tripoli appeared to have been cut, and residents could not be reached by phone from outside the country. State TV showed video of hundreds of Qadhafi supporters rallying in Green Square, waving palm fronds and pictures of him.

State TV quoted Mr. Qadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, as saying the military conducted airstrikes on remote areas, away from residential neighbourhoods, on munitions warehouses, denying reports that warplanes attacked Tripoli and Benghazi.

Jordanians who fled Libya gave horrific accounts of a “bloodbath” in Tripoli, saying they saw people shot, scores of burned cars and shops, and what appeared to be armed mercenaries who looked as if they were from other African countries.

Many billboards and posters of Mr. Qadhafi were smashed or burned along a road to downtown Tripoli, “emboldening” protesters, said a man who lives on the western outskirts of the capital.

The first major protests to hit an OPEC country, and major supplier to Europe, sent oil prices jumping, and the industry has begun eyeing reserves touched only after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the first Gulf War in 1991.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 7:22:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/Qadhafi-goes-on-Libyan-TV-amid-wave-of-protests/article15454775.ece

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