Naharnet

Gadhafi Appears on TV amid Security Council and Arab League Meetings

Deep rifts opened in Moammar Gadhafi'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. Gadhafi went on state TV early Tuesday to attempt to show he was still in charge.

World leaders have expressed outrage at the "vicious forms of repression" used against the demonstrators.

The longest serving Arab leader appeared briefly on TV to dispel rumors 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," Gadhafi 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-Gadhafi 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 2 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 Gadhafi's residence, but witnesses in various neighborhoods described a scene of intimidation: helicopters hovering above the main seaside boulevard and pro-Gadhafi 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.

Gadhafi 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 Gadhafi. 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.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the crackdown as "a serious violation of international humanitarian law." The U.N. spokesperson's office said late Monday that the Security Council had scheduled consultations on the situation in Libya for Tuesday morning.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Gadhafi to "stop this unacceptable bloodshed" and said the world was watching the events "with alarm," while British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting 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," Cameron said.

The chaos engulfing the country prompted many foreigners to flee.

Italy's government on Tuesday dispatched an air force jet to Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, to evacuate around 100 Italian citizens. Many countries had already urged their nationals to avoid nonessential travel to Libya, or recommended that those already there leave on commercial flights.

Oil companies, including Italy's Eni, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and U.K.-based BP have also begun evacuating their expat workers or their families or both.

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 Gadhafi supporters rallying in Green Square, waving palm fronds and pictures of him.

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

The heaviest fighting so far has been in the east. Security forces in Benghazi opened fire Sunday on protesters storming police stations and government buildings. But in several instances, units of the military sided with protesters.

By Monday, protesters had claimed control of the city, overrunning its main security headquarters, called the Katiba.

Celebrating protesters raised the flag of Libya's old monarchy, toppled in 1969 in a Gadhafi-led military coup, over Benghazi's main courthouse and on tanks around the city.

"Gadhafi needs one more push and he is gone," said lawyer Amal Roqaqie.

The Arab League is also to meet later Tuesday to discuss the bloody uprising in Libya, a spokesman for the pan-Arab organization told Agence France Presse.

Permanent representatives of its 22 members will convene at 5:00 pm (1500 GMT), the spokesman said -- at about the same time as the Security Council is due to take up Libya in New York.(AP-AFP)

Source: Agence France Presse, Associated Press


Copyright © 2012 Naharnet.com. All Rights Reserved. http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/3301