Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How Many Libyans Need to Die?

Yesterday, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi made another rambling and hateful speech in which he called protesters "cockroaches" and threatened anybody who took up arms against Libya—a concept in his deranged mind which obviously excludes the Libyan people—would be executed, calling on his supporters to "cleanse Libya house by house" unless the protesters surrendered. While I am not sure that it is appropriate to call what is currently transpiring in Libya a genocide, the term being used by Ibrahim Dabbashi, the country's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations in New York, Qaddafi's language is certainly representative of a killer with genocidal potential. The Interior Minister resigned after his last speech, more and more UN Ambassadors are defecting and Peru has cut now ties with Libya. And finally, last night the UN Security Council condemned the crackdown.

But at this point what can the international community do?

The critical situation in Libya should cause Western populations to pause and seriously reflect upon how after enforcing years of sanctions that punished the Libyan government without improving the situation for Libyans, opening ties to this brutal dictator in 2003 also further emboldened him to suppress his people but without giving the international community any leverage. Over the last several years, Western companies, mostly European, have been cooperating with the Qaddafi regime on lucrative business deals in which both parties reap huge financial benefits. Furthermore, most of Libya's oil is exported to the United States and Europe. These business investments and oil profits have allowed Qaddafi to purchase weapons and train foreign mercenaries to brutally crackdown on Libyans. And still almost none of this money has been shared with the Libyan people, around 60 per cent of whom live on under $2 a day. It is no surprise that this situation was untenable, but it is utterly shameful that it is taking the brave Libyan people to lose their lives to let us know.

BBC News
23 February 2011

The UN Security Council has condemned the Libyan authorities for using force against protesters, calling for those responsible to be held to account.

In a statement, the council demanded an immediate end to the violence and said Libya's rulers had to "address the legitimate demands of the population".

Nearly 300 people have been killed so far, according to Human Rights Watch.

Earlier, Col Muammar Gaddafi urged his supporters to attack the "cockroaches" and "rats" protesting against his rule.

Anyone who took up arms against Libya would be executed, he warned.

Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi later resigned and called on the armed forces to "join and heed the people's demands".

'Extremely strong'

The UN Security Council's statement came after a day of debate on the uprising in Libya, which has seen the state lose control of much of the east of the country, foreign mercenaries allegedly attacking civilians on the streets and warplanes reportedly shooting and bombing protesters.

The council's 15 members said the Libyan authorities should "meet its responsibility to protect its population", act with restraint, and respect human rights and international humanitarian law.

The Libyan authorities should also hold accountable those people responsible for attacking civilians, and respect the rights of its citizens to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and press freedom, they added.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the statement was "extremely strong" and indicated further measures were likely in the coming days.

Libya's deputy permanent representative to the UN in New York, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who on Monday called on Col Gaddafi to step down, said the council's statement was "not strong enough" but still "a good message to the regime in Libya about stopping the bloodshed".

But his superior, Abdul Rahman Mohammed Shalqam, dissociated himself from the remarks, calling Libya's ruler "my friend".

The Arab League also condemned the "crimes" against protesters in Libya and said it would bar the country from League meetings.

'Genocide has started'

But Col Gaddafi was defiant in a rambling 75-minute speech broadcast on state television, saying he vowing to crush the revolt by "rats and mercenaries".

Standing outside the Bab al-Aziza barracks in Tripoli, which was damaged by a US air strike in 1986, he vowed: "I am not going to leave this land. I will die here as a martyr. I shall remain here defiant."

He also called on his supporters to "cleanse Libya house by house" unless the protesters surrendered.

"All of you who love Muammar Gaddafi, go out on the streets, secure the streets, don't be afraid of them... Chase them, arrest them, hand them over," he said.

He portrayed the protesters as misguided youths who had been given drugs and money by a "small, sick group", and blamed "bearded men" - a reference to Islamist - and Libyans living abroad for fomenting the violence.

"The hour of work is here, the hour of onslaught is here, the hour of victory is here. No retreat, forward, forward, forward. Revolution, revolution," he shouted at the end of the speech, pumping both fists in the air.

Shortly after the speech, a BBC correspondent in Tripoli heard the sound of guns being fired, apparently into the air. She said fireworks were also set off and cars drove through the city at high speed, their horns blaring.

In the eastern city of Benghazi, people watching the address reportedly threw shoes at television screens as a sign of their anger.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Col Gaddafi's speech was "very, very appalling" and "amounted to him declaring war on his own people".

In New York, Mr Dabbashi said he had received information that the Libyan leader's supporters had started attacking people in all western cities.

"The Gaddafi statement was just code for his collaborators to start the genocide against the Libyan people. It just started a few hours ago. I hope the information I get is not accurate but if it is, it will be a real genocide," he told reporters.


Earlier in the day, Tripoli was reported to be tense, with almost-empty streets enlivened only by lines of people queuing for bread and petrol.

In Sabratah, 80km (50 miles) west of the capital, a large number of soldiers were deployed after protesters destroyed the offices of the security services, the Quryna newspaper reported.

There were also reports that the western city of Ajdabiya was now controlled by the opposition. Ajdabiya is situated close to Libya's main oil fields. Government forces have also been ejected from the cities of Tobruk and Benghazi.

Witnesses in the eastern town of al-Bayda told the Reuters news agency that 26 people had been shot dead overnight by Gaddafi loyalists.

Refugees also streamed across Libya's eastern border with Egypt. Many said the Libyan authorities had been using tanks, warplanes and mercenaries.

The BBC's Jon Leyne, in eastern Libya, says the region appears to be wholly under opposition control and people are deliriously happy. Many of the army and police have defected and have been accepted by the opposition.

Local people said the government there had collapsed on Thursday after the first protests. They believe the only people now supporting Col Gaddafi are foreign fighters in the country.

Our correspondent says there is little doubt that Col Gaddafi's rule is finished, but it is not clear how long it will take or how bloody it will be.

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