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Anti-Gaddafi Protests Spread To Capital Tripoli, 61 Killed

Tripoli, Feb 21: More than 60 people have been reported dead after more violence in the Libyan capital as angry protests against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's 40-year rule escalate across the country, reports Al Jazeera..At
PTI February 21, 2011 22:21 IST
PTI
Tripoli, Feb 21: More than 60 people have been reported dead after more violence in the Libyan capital as angry protests against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's 40-year rule escalate across the country, reports Al Jazeera..

At least 61 people were killed in clashes in Tripoli on Monday, witnesses told Al Jazeera. The protests appeared to be gathering momentum, with demonstrators saying they had taken control of several key towns in the country.

News of the spreading violence came as a privately run Libyan newspaper reported that the country's justice minister had resigned over the deadly force used against protesters.

Ahmad Jibreel, a Libyan diplomat, spoke to Al Jazeera on Monday and confirmed that the minister had sided with the protesters.

"I was speaking to the minister of justice just a few minutes ago... he told me personally, he told me he had joined the supporters. He is trying to organise good things in all cities," he said.

Jibreel also told Al Jazeera that key cities near Libya's border with Egypt were now in the hands of protesters, which he said would enable foreign media to now enter the country.

"Gaddafi's guards started shooting people in the second day and they shot two people only. We had on that day in Al Bayda city only 300 protesters. When they killed two people, we had more than 5,000 at their funeral, and when they killed 15 people the next day, we had more than 50,000 the following day.

"This means that the more Gaddafi kills people, the more people go into the streets."

His comments came hours after Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a son of the Libyan leader, warned of a civil war if anti-government protests continue to spread in the country.

Speaking on state television in the early hours of Monday morning, Saif Gaddafi blamed thugs, inmates, foreigners and Islamists for the unrest that has spread across the country since February 14.

He promised a conference on constitutional reforms within two days and said Libyans should "forget oil and petrol" and prepare themselves for occupation by "the West" if they failed to agree.

The younger Gaddafi contrasted the situation in Libya with revolts earlier this year in Egypt and Tunisia, where longtime rulers were forced step down or fled in the face of mass popular discontent.

Protesters in Libya have similarly called for Muammar Gaddafi's ousting, but his son warned against this, saying "Libya is different, if there is disturbance it will split into several states".

"You can say we want democracy and rights, we can talk about it, we should have talked about it before. It's this or war. Instead of crying over 200 deaths, we will cry over hundreds of thousands of deaths.

"Brothers, there are $200bn worth of projects at stake now. We will agree to all these issues immediately. We will then be able to keep our country, unlike our neighbours.

"Or else, be ready to start a civil war and chaos and forget oil and petrol."

But his statements have failed to hinder demonstrations. Protesters say they have taken control of several key towns, including the eastern city of Benghazi. Al Bayda and Sabha were also said to have been taken over by protesters.

Tripoli violence

Following Saif Gaddafi's speech, witnesses in Tripoli reported an escalation of violence, as supporters of his father flooded into the city's central square and confronted anti-government protesters.

Armed men in uniform fired into the crowds, witnesses said, and continuous gunfire could be heard in the background of recorded phone calls from the capital released to journalists by Libyans living abroad.

Saif Gaddafi admitted that some military bases, tanks and weapons had been seized and acknowledged that the army, under stress, opened fire on crowds because it was not used to controlling demonstrations.

Though human rights groups have said that hundreds of protesters have died, a toll they still described as "conservative," Saif Gaddafi said that numbers had been exaggerated.

He said there were 14 dead in Tripoli and 84 in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city and the site of some of the bloodiest security crackdowns.

In a new estimate released on Sunday, Human Rights Watch said at least 233 people have died so far.

Doctors and eyewitnesses throughout Libya have offered widely varying death toll but have reported many hundreds of injured, even in Benghazi alone.

'Desperate speech'

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, said Saif Gaddafi's speech appeared "desperate".

"It sounded like a desperate speech by a desperate son of a dictator who's trying to use blackmail on the Libyan people by threatening that he could turn the country into a bloodbath," Bishara said.

"That is very dangerous coming from someone who doesn't even hold an official role in Libya - so in so many ways, this could be the beginning of a nightmare scenario for Libya if a despotic leader puts his son on air in order to warn his people of a bloodbath if they don't listen to the orders or the dictates of a dictators."

"It's also fascinating how he threatened the West with chaos in Libya and then threatened Libyans with Western intervention, because, as he put it, that would turn Libya into a decentralised country allowing various Islamist groups to take over, which the West would not allow," Bishara said.

Awad Elfeituri from the Libyan Information Centre in Qatar told Al Jazeera that the young Gaddafi "is in a state of panic now. I think he is trying to send a message to the west, I don't think he was talking to the Libyan people".

Elfeituri said the Gaddafi regime was still trying to do its best to hold onto power. "I don't think they will surrender easily," he said.