By Gary Farber
Libya appears to be in full revolt. Residents say troops defect in Libya's Benghazi:
Members of a Libyan army unit told Benghazi residents on Sunday they had defected and "liberated" Libya's second city from troops supporting veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi, two residents said.
Habib al-Obaidi, who heads the intensive care unit at the main Al-Jalae hospital, and lawyer Mohamed al-Mana, told Reuters members of the "Thunderbolt" squad had arrived at the hospital with soldiers wounded in clashes with Gaddafi's personal guard.
"They are now saying that they have overpowered the Praetorian Guard and that they have joined the people's revolt," al-Mana said by telephone. It was not possible to independently verify the report.
Obaidi said the bodies of 50 people killed on Sunday had arrived at the hospital in the late afternoon. Most had died from bullet wounds.
Communications are tightly controlled, and Benghazi is not accessible to international journalists.
Human Rights Watch said 84 people were killed in the city on Saturday, bringing the death toll in four days of clashes mainly in the east of the country to 173 before Sunday's violence.
"A massacre took place here last night," one resident, who did not want to be named, told Reuters by telephone on Sunday.
A leading tribal figure who requested anonymity said security forces, mainly confined to a compound, had been venturing out of their barracks and shooting protesters in the street in "cat and mouse chases".
Clashes were taking place on a road leading to a cemetery where thousands had gone to bury the dead.
The Guardian, Ian Black writes, Sunday 20 February 2011 20.14 GMT:
The most violent scenes so far of the wave of protests sweeping the Arab world were seen in its most repressive country as Muammar Gaddafi appeared to be relying on brute force to crush what began last week as peaceful protests but may now threaten his 41-year rule.But the eyes of the world were on Benghazi and elsewhere in eastern Libya where shocked witnesses talked of "massacres" and described corpses shot in the head, chest or neck piling up in hospitals running short of blood and medicines.
Estimates of the total number of fatalities over six days of unprecedented unrest ranged from 173 to 285. Some opposition sources gave figures as high as 500.
Gaddafi's sons, Khamis and Saadi, and intelligence chief Abdullah Sanussi were reportedly commanding efforts to crush the protests in Benghazi, the country's second city, where buildings were ransacked and troops and police forced to retreat to a compound to pick off demonstrators with sniper and artillery fire.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat, the Saudi newspaper, quoted sources close to the Gaddafi family as saying they would "die on Libyan soil" rather than give up power like the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia.
Facts were hard to pin down in the face of a news blackout that included jamming of the signal of the al-Jazeera satellite TV network and interference with telephone and internet connections. But there were multiple claims of the army firing into crowds and the targeting of mourners at the funerals of those killed on Saturday. The Libya al-Yawm news website quoted one local doctor as saying that 285 people had died in Benghazi alone.
"Now people are dying we've got nothing else to live for," a student blogger told the Guardian. "What needs to happen now is for the killing to to stop. But that won't happen until he [Gaddafi] is out. We just want to be able to live like human beings. Nothing will happen until protests really kick off in Tripoli, the capital. It's like a pressure cooker. People are boiling up inside. I'm not even afraid any more. Once I wouldn't have spoken at all by phone. Now I don't care."
Libyans protesting against Muammar Gaddafi's rule appeared to control the streets of Benghazi on Sunday, even though the security forces have killed scores in the bloodiest of multiple revolts now rocking the Arab world.
Witnesses said Libya's second city was in chaos, with government buildings ransacked and troops and police forced to retreat to a fortified compound, from where they picked off demonstrators with sniper and heavy-weapons fire.
"The security forces are in their barracks and the city is in a state of civil mutiny," one witness told Reuters.
It's important to note that:
[...][But Libya watchers said an Egyptian-style nationwide revolt was unlikely as regional grievances were a factor in the unrest.
Gaddafi has less support in the east but is respected by many Libyans despite the absence of Western-style democracy. And Libya's oil wealth allows him to spread largesse to smooth over social problems.
But several people in Benghazi hospitals, reached by telephone, said they believed as many as 200 had been killed and more than 800 wounded there on Saturday alone. Witnesses indicated that many had been killed by machine-gun fire.
The fires are raging across the Mideast:
There were also large protests on Sunday in Yemen, Tunisia and, for the first time, Morocco. And Iranian security forces violently suppressed attempted demonstrations in Tehran and other cities around the country.
But more than a thousand other members of the security forces had hardly surrendered. They were concentrated a few miles away from the courthouse in a barracks in the neighborhood of Berqa. Witnesses said young protesters were attempting suicidal attacks on the barracks with thrown rocks, stun grenades usually used for fishing, or occasionally vehicles stolen from the security forces. But the security forces responded by shooting from the cover of the fortified building, while others shot from vehicles as they cruised the side streets.
Some protesters said they were crying and celebrating even as the toll rose. “Despite the pain and victims, we are happy because the blood of our sons was not spilled in vain,” said Amal Mohaity, a lawyer and human rights activist. “Mark my words: Qaddafi is coming down, he is coming down, he is coming down.”
There were reports of uprisings in other cities along the coast in the eastern part of the country as well. Roughly 70 miles east, in the port city of Darnah, one witness said that five had died in clashes with the police on Thursday but that by Sunday the protesters had set fire to the security headquarters and the police had pulled out. “Right now, people are terrified,” said Ashraf Tarbah, a public employee, “and they are praying for the people of Benghazi.”
Witnesses in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, a stronghold of security forces in the West of the country, said Sunday that uprisings had broken out in three working class suburbs there Saturday night but were quickly dispersed by police. News accounts, opposition figures outside the country and protesters using Twitter and Facebook and described unrest in Zantan and Baida, the third largest city, as well. But those reports could not be confirmed.
The Libyan government, meanwhile, has attempted to impose a near total blackout on the country. Foreign journalists cannot enter. Internet access has been almost totally cut off, with only occasional access, though some protesters appear to be using satellite connections or phoning information to services outside the country. Several people and intermediaries said Libyans were afraid to talk to the foreign press over the phone for fear of reprisals from the security forces.
Benghazi, the traditional hub of the country’s eastern province, has long been a center of opposition to the Qaddafi government centered in Tripoli. In 1996, it was the site of a massacre at the Abu Slim prison, when security forces shot more than 1,000 prisoners. Those killings have since become a major rallying point for Qaddafi critics there.
What triggered this now, beyond the neighboring conflagrations, and the tools of online revolution?
Opponents of the regime had set Thursday, Feb. 17, as the day of a demonstration dubbed the “day of rage” after an earlier protest in Egypt. But on Tuesday, the security forces detained a prominent opposition lawyer, Fathi Terbil, who represented many of the families of prisoners killed in the massacre, and members of the families led the protesters into the streets the next day.
By Sunday, Fathi Terbil had been released and set up a live online video broadcast that appeared to emanate from the roof of the Benghazi courthouse overlooking what residents call their Tahrir Square. “Free Libya Radio,” he called it.
“We are expecting people to die today, more people than before,” Mr. Terbil said early Sunday, before the latest round of funerals and shootings began.
“If anything happens to us today, we are not going to leave this place,” he said. “I’m not afraid to die, I’m afraid to lose the battle, that’s why I want the media to see what’s going on.”
“At least if we die, so many people can witness, I can protest from everywhere,” he added, “Long live a free Libya. We are determined to fight till the end for our country.”
A group of 50 prominent Libyan Muslim religious leaders issues an appeal to Muslims in the security forces to stop participating the violence against protesters. “We appeal to every Muslim, within the regime or assisting it in any way, to recognize that the killing of innocent human beings is forbidden by our Creator and by His beloved Prophet of Compassion (peace be upon him),” the statement declared, according to Reuters reported. “Do NOT kill your brothers and sisters. STOP the massacre NOW!”
Again, this is a revolution of 2011, online, unchecked by borders:
Over Twitter, Facebook and online social networks, Libyans were calling Sunday for help from across the eastern border in Egypt, pleading for sympathetic Egyptians to bring medical supplies to help with revolt. And Egyptians, with the help of Libyans living abroad, were organizing aid convoys to the border.
The off switches have been pulled, but they are not enough:
[...] Epitaphs for the Mubarak government all note that the mobilizing power of the Internet was one of the Egyptian opposition’s most potent weapons. But quickly lost in the swirl of revolution was the government’s ferocious counterattack, a dark achievement that many had thought impossible in the age of global connectedness. In a span of minutes just after midnight on Jan. 28, a technologically advanced, densely wired country with more than 20 million people online was essentially severed from the global Internet.
For all the Internet’s vaunted connectivity, the Egyptian government commanded powerful instruments of control: it owns the pipelines that carry information across the country and out into the world.
Internet experts say similar arrangements are more common in authoritarian countries than is generally recognized. In Syria, for example, the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment dominates the infrastructure, and the bulk of the international traffic flows through a single pipeline to Cyprus. Jordan, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries have the same sort of dominant, state-controlled carrier.
Over the past several days, activists in Bahrain and Iran say they have seen strong evidence of severe Internet slowdowns amid protests there. Concerns over the potential for a government shutdown are particularly high in North African countries, most of which rely on a just a small number of fiber-optic lines for most of their international Internet traffic.
This can and will and is happening elsewhere:
China, for example, has built an elaborate national filtering system known as the Golden Shield Project, and in 2009 it shut down cellphone and Internet service amid unrest in the Muslim region of Xinjiang. Nepal’s government briefly disconnected from the Internet in the face of civil unrest in 2005, and so did Myanmar’s government in 2007.
But until Jan. 28 in Egypt, no country had revealed that control of those choke points could allow the government to shut down the Internet almost entirely.
There has been intense debate both inside and outside Egypt on whether the cutoff at 26 Ramses Street was accomplished by surgically tampering with the software mechanism that defines how networks at the core of the Internet communicate with one another, or by a blunt approach: simply cutting off the power to the router computers that connect Egypt to the outside world.
But either way, the international portals were shut, and the domestic system reeled from the blow.
It's not enough. Information wants to be free, and people want freedom even more:
For some of the protesters facing Bahrain’s heavily armed security forces in and around Pearl Square in Manama, the most powerful weapon against shotguns and tear gas has been the tiny camera inside their cellphones.
By uploading images of this week’s violence in Manama, the capital, to Web sites like YouTube and yFrog, and then sharing them on Facebook and Twitter, the protesters upstaged government accounts and drew worldwide attention to their demands.
A novelty less than a decade ago, the cellphone camera has become a vital tool to document the government response to the unrest that has spread through the Middle East and North Africa.
Recognizing the power of such documentation, human rights groups have published guides and provided training on how to use cellphone cameras effectively.
“You finally have a video technology that can fit into the palm of one person’s hand, and what the person can capture can end up around the world,” said James E. Katz, director of the Rutgers Center for Mobile Communication Studies. “This is the dagger at the throat of the creaky old regimes that, through the manipulation of these old centralized technologies, have been able to smother the public’s voice.”
In Tunisia, cellphones were used to capture video images of the first protests in Sidi Bouzid in December, which helped spread unrest to other parts of the country. The uploaded images also prompted producers at Al Jazeera, the satellite television network, to begin focusing on the revolt, which toppled the Tunisian government in mid-January and set the stage for the demonstrations in Egypt.
How do these videos get out?
[...] Among the sites, Bambuser has stood out as a way to stream video. Mans Adler, the site’s co-founder, said it had 15,000 registered users in Egypt, most of whom signed up just before last November’s election. He said there were more than 10,000 videos on the site that were produced around the time of the election, focusing on activity at the polls, in what appeared to be an organized effort.
Afterward, the level of activity settled down to 800 to 2,000 videos a day, but then soared back to 10,000 a day again when the mass protests erupted in Egypt last month, he said.
In Bahrain, the government has blocked access to Bambuser.
At training sessions to help activists use their cameras, Bassem Samir, the executive director of the Egyptian Democratic Academy, said that improving the quality of the images and video was a high priority.
“Videos are stories,” said Mr. Samir. “What happened on the 25th and 28th of January, it’s a story. It’s like a story of people who were asking for freedom and democracy, and we had, like, five or three minutes to tell it.”
By the way: Robert Mackey contributed reporting.
What can we see? This:
51 minutes ago, as of 2 p.m., Pacific time:
The revolution is now, and it is live, and people are dying, and you are there.
Marc Lynch tweets:Been amazed how AJ Arabic has been able to cover Libya with such limited access on ground. - and by what callers willing to say on air»»»»1 hour agoYoung, wired young Islamist activists in Egypt http://bit.ly/hiWtAQ
Update, Feburary 22nd, 9:19 a.m. PST: BBC News reports on Gaddaffi speech:The protesters had been given drink and drugs, he said, frequently shouting and banging his fist on the table as the address continued.
In his first major speech since unrest began last week, Col Gaddafi said the whole world looked up to Libya and that protests were "serving the devil".
Reading from the country's constitution, he said enemies of Libya would be executed.
He called on "those who love Muammar Gaddafi" to come on to the streets in support of him, telling them not to be afraid of the "gangs".
"Come out of your homes, attack them in their dens. Withdraw your children from the streets. They are drugging your children, they are making your children drunk and sending them to hell," he said.
"If matters require, we will use force, according to international law and the Libyan constitution," and warned that the country could descend into civil war or be occupied by the US if protests continued.
The BBC's Frank Gardner said it was an extraordinary speech even by Col Gaddafi's usual standards, full of theatrical defiance against almost everyone.
He appears completely divorced from reality, says our correspondent, saying that he had not authorised the army to use force, despite opposition statements that more than 500 people have been killed and more than 1,000 are missing.
There will be blood.
UPDATE, February 22nd, 2011, 12:14 p.m., PST: Libyan pilots and diplomats defect.
Group of army officers have also issued a statement urging fellow soldiers to "join the people" and help remove Gaddafi.Last Modified: 22 Feb 2011 05:03 GMT[...]
Two Libyan air force jets landed in Malta on Monday and their pilots have asked for political asylum.
The pilots claimed to have defected after refusing to follow orders to attack civilians protesting in Benghazi in Libya.
The pilots, who said they were colonels in the Libyan air force, were being questioned by authorities in an attempt to verify their identities.
Meanwhile, a group of Libyan army officers have issued a statement urging fellow soldiers to "join the people" and help remove Muammar Gaddafi.
The officers urged the rest of the Libyan army to march to Tripoli.
[...]li Aujali, the Libyan ambassador to the United States, called for the Libyan leader's resignation, telling the Associated Press news agency on Monday night that Gaddafi must step down and give Libyans a chance "to make their future".
He said he was not resigning, as he worked for the Libyan people.
On Tuesday, Ali el-Essawi, Libya's ambassador to India who has resigned in protest against the violence used against demonstrators, told Al Jazeera that warplanes had been used to bomb civilians, and that government forces, including "foreigners" were "killing Libyans". He described the violence as a "massacre", and called for the UN to declare a no-fly zone over Libya.
"Now [the UN security council] needs to prove that they believe in human rights ... and to prove to us that they really have these principles in their hearts," he said.
Late on Monday, A.H. Elimam, Libya's ambassador to Bangladesh, resigned to protest against the killing of his family members by government soldiers.
Earlier on Monday, diplomats at Libya's mission to the United Nations sided with the revolt against their country's leader and called on the Libyan army to help overthrow "the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi."In a statement issued as protests erupted across Libya, the mission's deputy chief and other staff said they were serving the Libyan people, demanded "the removal of the regime immediately" and urged other Libyan embassies to follow suit.
[...] I have already seen reports that NATO has sternly warned Libya against further violence against its people. Making that credible could mean the declaration and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya, presumably by NATO, to prevent the use of military aircraft against the protestors. It could also mean a clear declaration that members of the regime and military will be held individually responsible for any future deaths. The U.S. should call for an urgent, immediate Security Council meeting and push for a strong resolution condeming Libya's use of violence and authorizing targeted sanctions against the regime.
Fighting Nears Tripoli, Where Qaddafi Keeps Grip on Power
[...] Libyans fleeing across the country’s western border into Tunisia reported fighting over the past two nights in the town of Sabratha, home of an important Roman archeological site 50 miles west of Tripoli. Thousands of Libyan forces loyal to Col. Qaddafi have deployed there, according to Reuters. [...] There were also reports of fighting in Misurata, a provincial center 130 miles west of the capital. [...] A local radio station that had been broadcasting opposition messages was reported to have been attacked. In the southern city of Sabha, considered a Qaddafi stronghold, large protests were also reported. [...]
In Tripoli, the streets were relatively quiet Wednesday morning, a resident said, but armed mercenaries were still in the streets. A bloody crackdown drove protesters from the streets on Tuesday, and residents had described a state of terror.
“All the government buildings in Tripoli are burned down,” one resident said. “But the mercenaries, they have weapons. The Libyans don’t have weapons, they will kill you.”
[...]The country’s long-serving interior minister, Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi, announced his defection to the opposition Tuesday night, urging the Libyan Army to join the people and their “legitimate demands.” State media, however, claimed he had been kidnapped by “gangs.”
Mr. Abidi said Wednesday that he had decided to resign after the people of Benghazi were gunned down with machine guns. In an interview with CNN, he said he had argued with Colonel Qaddafi’s intention to use airplanes to bomb that city, the nation’s second largest, warning it would kill thousands.
After the televised speech by Colonel Qaddafi, thousands of his supporters had converged in the city’s central Green Square on Tuesday night, wearing green bandannas and brandishing large machetes.
Many loaded into trucks headed for the outlying areas of the city, where they occupied traffic intersections and appeared to be massing for neighborhood-to-neighborhood searches.
“It looks like they have been given a green light to kill these people,” one witness said. [...]
But as they clamped down on the capital, Colonel Qaddafi’s security forces did not appear to make any attempt to take back the growing number of towns in the east that had in effect declared their independence and set up informal opposition governments. For now, there is little indication of what will replace the vacuum left by Colonel Qaddafi’s authority in broad parts of the country other than simmering anarchy.
Only around the town of Ajdabiya, south of the revolt’s center in Benghazi, were Colonel Qaddafi’s security forces and militia still clashing with protesters along the road to the colonel’s hometown, Surt.
The widening gap between the capital and the eastern countryside underscored the radically different trajectory of the Libyan revolt from the others that recently toppled Arab autocrats on Libya’s western and eastern borders, in Tunisia and Egypt.
Though the Libyan revolt began with a relatively organized core of longtime government critics in Benghazi, its spread to the capital was swift and spontaneous, outracing any efforts to coordinate the protests.
Colonel Qaddafi has lashed out with a level of violence unseen in either of the other uprisings, partly by importing foreigners without ties to the Libyan people. His four decades of idiosyncratic one-man rule have left the country without any national institutions — not even a unified or disciplined military — that could tame his retribution or provide the framework for a transitional government.
He urged citizens to take to the streets and beat back the protesters, and he described himself in sweeping, megalomaniacal terms. “Muammar Qaddafi is history, resistance, liberty, glory, revolution,” he declared.
In Tobruk, an eastern city that joined the uprising almost as soon as it began, a resident watching the speech in the main square reacted by throwing a rock at Colonel Qaddafi’s face as it was broadcast on a large television. And in a cafe not far from Tobruk, Fawzi Labada, a bus driver, looked incredulously at the screen. “He is weak now,” he said. “He’s a liar, a big liar. He will hang.”
The gap between Colonel Qaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli and the insurrection in the east recalled Libya’s pre-1931 past as three different countries — Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica — and underscored the challenge facing its insurrection.
Many analysts have suggested that Colonel Qaddafi seemed to fear the development of any national institutions or networks that might check his power, and he has kept even his military divided into battalions, each loyal mainly to its own officers.
That has set the stage for heavy defections during the revolt — rebels in the east said some government forces had simply abandoned their uniforms to join the cause. But it also means that Libya’s military is unlikely to play the stabilizing role its Tunisian or Egyptian counterparts did.
Tobruk residents said neighboring cities — including Dernah, Al Qubaa, Bayda and El Marij — were also quiet, and effectively ruled by the opposition.
The government lost control of Tobruk almost immediately, according to Gamal Shallouf, a marine biologist who has become an informal press officer in the city.
Soldiers took off their uniforms on Friday and Saturday, taking the side of protesters, who burned the police station and another government building, smashing a large stone monument of Colonel Qaddafi’s Green Book. Four people were killed during clashes here, residents said.
Salah Algheriani, who works for the state-owned Gulf Oil company, talked about the sea change in Tobruk, where everyone was suddenly full of loud opinions and hope, including the hope that young people might stop leaving the country for Europe.
“The taste of freedom is very delicious,” he said.
Soon the tyrant will be dead. Who or what will replace him? Big question. All italics above are mine.