Libya Endgame: The Battle For Tripoli
Differing reports out of the city make it unclear which side holds the advantage, but it appears the future of the country will be decided in Tripoli.
"Several hundred government loyalists heeded his call in Tripoli, the capital, on Wednesday, staging a pro-Gaddafi rally in the city's Green Square," according to Al Jazeera English. "Fresh gunfire was reported in the capital on Wednesday, after Gaddafi called on his supporters to take back the streets from anti-government protesters."
An early morning blog post on AJE reported "up to ten tanks - as well as carloads of people cheering for Gaddafi" in Tripoli.
Gaddafi supporters are said to be shooting people from SUVs.
A carpenter in Tripoli told Bloomberg News, "Gunfire starts at sunset and lasts all night in Tripoli." Another carpenter said bullets were "all over the ground" after a skirmish between protesters and loyalists.
Gaddafi is said to have brought in African mercenaries to help him fend off opposition forces in the country's capital.
"Distrustful of even his own generals, Colonel Qaddafi has for years quietly built up this ruthless and loyal force. It is made up of special brigades headed by his sons, segments of the military loyal to his native tribe and its allies, and legions of African mercenaries he has helped train and equip. Many are believed to have fought elsewhere, in places like Sudan, but he has now called them back," the New York Times reports."Witnesses said thousands of members of this irregular army were massing on roads to the capital, Tripoli, where one resident described scenes evocative of anarchic Somalia: clusters of heavily armed men in mismatched uniforms clutching machine guns and willing to carry out orders to kill Libyans that other police and military units, and even fighter pilots, have refused."
Gaddafi has worked hard to keep the Libya military "weak and divided" so he could not be overthrown.
One man told the L.A. Times that the local police had left the area and were replaced by pro-government forces.
The Independent's Robert Fisk painted the scene of thousands trying to flee: "Up to 15,000 men, women and children besieged Tripoli's international airport last night, shouting and screaming for seats on the few airliners still prepared to fly to Muammar Gaddafi's rump state, paying Libyan police bribe after bribe to reach the ticket desks in a rain-soaked mob of hungry, desperate families. Many were trampled as Libyan security men savagely beat those who pushed their way to the front."
"The military is no longer operating checkpoints, which are now manned only by a handful of traffic police. Every physical sign of the dictator has been taken down or burned. While there has been no violence in the past two days, angry demonstrators are driving through city firing Kalashnikov rifles into the air and demanding Gaddafi cede control and leave the country," according to the Guardian.
In Benghazi, people were beginning to "restore basic services...and setting up informal governing structures."
Opposition forces were also said to have taken control of Libya's third largest city, Misurata, an area long known for solidly supporting Gaddafi.
In an Internet statement, Misurata military members pledged "total support for the protesters."
The fall of Misurata leaves Gaddafi "increasingly isolated and in danger of encirclement as he fights for survival."
The Epoch Times reports, "A private jet allegedly carrying Gaddafi family members attempted to flee Libya on Wednesday, but were denied landing rights in Lebanon and Malta."
Fisk noted, "Libyans and expatriates I spoke to yesterday said they thought he was clinically insane, but they expressed more anger at his son, Saif al-Islam. 'We thought Saif was the new light, the 'liberal', a Libyan businessman sad to me. 'Now we realise he is crazier and more cruel than his father.'"
Saif al-Islam warned of civil war in an interview with Libyan state television and said protests put the entire country at risk.
Pledging support for his father, he said, "We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet."
In a speech Tuesday night, Gaddafi vowed to die a martyr and said he would get rid of opposition members "house by house" and "inch by inch."
The New York Times reports:
Dozens of checkpoints operated by a combination of foreign mercenaries and plainclothes militiamen lined the road west of Tripoli for the first time, witnesses said, requiring not only the presentation of official papers but also displays of flag-waving, fist-pumping enthusiasm for Colonel Qaddafi, who has long fashioned himself as a pan-African icon.
“You are trying to convince them you are a loyalist,” one resident said, “and the second they realize that you are not, you are done for.”
President Obama condemned the violence in the region, calling it "outrageous" in a televised speech Wednesday.
"The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous, and it is unacceptable. So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters and further punish the people of Libya. These actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop," Obama said. "The United States also strongly supports the universal rights of the Libyan people. That includes the rights of peaceful assembly, free speech and the ability of the Libyan people to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. They are not negotiable."
Many on Twitter unloaded harsh words on Obama after his speech.
Some Tweets gathered by GlobalVoices:
- Obama offered nothing to Libya, he is just selling nice words in silly way, and insulted us #Libya #Gaddafi #Obama #SecClinton #Tripoli
- Is it a coincidence that Obama waited to condemn the violence in Libya till the UN did so on Tuesday? http://tinyurl.com/4tjxat9After 9 days of silence, commenting on Libya Obama fails to condemn or mention genocidal Gaddafi by name. Strange. || #Obama #Gaddafi #Libya
- hey #Obama the world has been watching #Libya for 8 days. #hardlydecisive
- One common thing between #Obama & #Gaddafi: Both speeches are useless! #Libya #Feb17
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