Libya, Feb. 25: The Noose Tightens

[Ed. Note: Previous updates, from earliest to most recent, are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

For still more news, commentaries, analyses, maps, photographs and videos, click here.]

BBC’s Map of Military Bases (click to enlarge)

UPDATE 23:28 GMT: CNN’s Ben Wedeman via Twitter: “Libyan State TV running what looks like a Qaddafi fashion show set to bad music. #Libya”

UPDATE 22:51 GMT: Which A-listers have been partying with the Gaddafi family over the years? If you guessed Mariah Carey, Beyoncé and Usher, you’re less then half-right because you left out Jon Bon Jovi, Lindsay Lohan, supermodels Miranda Kerr and Victoria Silvestedt and BET Founder Robert Johnson. The full story is in this post here.

UPDATE 22:45 GMT: AFP is now reporting that the Libyan ambassador to the UN, Mohammed Shalgham, has defected.

UPDATE 22:27 GMT: The Guardian is reporting that UK officials have told Gaddafi loyalists to defect or face war crimes.

UPDATE 22:18 GMT: Associated Press has a witness providing a first-hand account of today’s violence in Tripoli: “In the first wave of fire, seven people within 10 meters of me were killed. Many people were shot in the head…it was really like we are dogs.”

UPDATE 21:28 GMT: Reuters just reported Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, as saying he’s been holding the army back; hopes for peaceful settlement “by tomorrow”

UPDATE 21:22 GMT: Rebel groups are reporting that Gaddafi forces in Tripoli are firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters [Ed. Note: By recent standards, rubber bullets and tear gas is a humanitarian improvement.]

UPDATE 21:18 GMT: Libya’s ambassador to the UN, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham just addressed the UN Security Council. He called for sanctions against the Gaddafi family and their supporters, saying that effective action must be taken to stop Gaddafi, his sons and their supporters.

Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, Libyan UN Ambassador

UPDATE 20:06 GMT: Reuters lists highlights from statement released by White House:
*US has decided to move forward with unilateral sanctions against Libya.
*US banks were advised to take steps to monitor financial transactions related to Libya.
*US has suspended limited military cooperation with Libya
*US sales of military parts to Libya have been frozen
*Obama to meet on Monday with U.N. Secretary General Ban about Libya
*U.S. uses full extent of intelligence to monitor Gaddafi regime
*US prepared to take more action against Libya if necessary

UPDATE 19:35 GMT: AFP reporting the US closing its embassy in Tripoli.

UPDATE 19:16 GMT: Important new article, A Guide To Libya’s Tribes, has just been posted here.

UPDATE 19:14 GMT: Libya’s satellite channel al-Libiyah reports Saif al-Islam will hold a news conference “in a few moments.”

UPDATE 19:11 GMT: State TV reports the regime is in talks with “the misguided youth,” who “have been handing over their weapons and joining the mass marches alongside the brother and leader of the revolution.”

Sounds of gunfire rattle residents of Tripoli
Vodpod videos no longer available.

UPDATE 17:44 GMT: The Washington Post’s description of the post-prayer attack on worshipers in Tripoli today: “Security forces opened fire on anti-government demonstrators streaming out of mosques after Friday prayers, resulting in multiple casualties, news agencies reported. Details were sketchy, but Arabic-language television networks said that between two and seven people had been killed.”

UPDATE 17:41 GMT: More on yesterday’s defection of the Gaddafi “cousin,” Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam, from the Wall Street Journal: The departure…could constitute a particularly stinging blow. “Al-Dam is in many respects closer to Gaddafi than his sons are,” said Tim Niblock, professor of Middle East politics at Exeter University. “He is actually Gaddafi’s cousin, but is more like his brother because Gaddafi lived with them for a significant part of his youth. If he has now made a statement against Gaddafi, then it is very close to the end.”

UPDATE 17:32 GMT: Reuters is citing a witness saying the road from Tripoli’s military airport to the city center is lined with police and soldiers as cars are being searched.

Gaddafi Addressing Tripoli Crowd (via Al Jazeera English)
Vodpod videos no longer available.

UPDATE 17:09 GMT: Gaddafi: “I am amidst the masses, I am in Tripoli, in Green Square. Here are the youth, the sons and grandchildren of the jihad battles, whose fathers destroyed the Italian empire.”

UPDATE 17:07 GMT: Gaddafi: “This is the people that brought Italy to its knees… Sing, dance, and prepare. I am amid the masses, and we shall fight, and we shall defeat them.”

UPDATE 16:57 GMT: Gaddafi: “We will fight if they want.”

UPDATE 16:55 GMT: Libyan state television is showing Muammar Gaddafi addressing a pro-Gaddafi crowd in central Tripoli.


UPDATE 16:12 GMT: BBC, with more on reports of people being shot at by Gaddafi supporters after Friday prayers. Citing a witness: “As we were praying, the shooting started. As people came out [of the mosque], they were shooting at people. A lot of my neighbors today died…There are helicopters. The sky is raining with bullets.”“

UPDATE 14:33 GMT: BBC, citing a witness: “Gaddafi supporters [are] carrying heavy arms [and] don’t want the people to gather. They were just coming out in a crowd. They caused a massacre… There are some people still lying on the street. Nobody can take them. They are using ambulances to shoot at people – can you believe it? They are using anti-aircraft weapons. They are shooting continuously.”

Friday Prayer at Martyrs Square in Az Zawiya

UPDATE 10:33 GMT: Also from AFP: Anti-Gaddafi protesters are now occupying the Libyan embassy in Paris. “We’ve taken over the embassy,” a spokeswoman for the group said.

UPDATE 10:32 GMT: Italy is preparing a “military operation” to rescue some Italian nationals stranded in south-eastern Libya whose food supplies have run out, AFP quotes Defense Minister Ignazio La Russia as saying.

UPDATE 09:42 GMT: The UN human rights chief says the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in Libya is “escalating,” AFP is reporting.

UPDATE 09:31 GMT: Al Jazeera Arabic reporting that “intensive discussions are under way between defected Libyan political leaders, including ambassadors and ministers who have stepped down, to form a political body to lead the country.”

UPDATE 08:29 GMT: About 7 hours ago, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, tweeted: Gaddafi is facing a civil war. Long live Libya. Long live the independence of Libya. [Ed. Note: You can follow Hugo Chavez on Twitter here. It’s in Spanish, of course, with a lot of “Viva Venezuela!” sprinkled about, almost like a patriotic form of Tourette’s Syndrome.]

UPDATE 08:06 GMT: The Committee to Protect Journalists has expressed “alarm” about “a number of [Libyan journalists and bloggers who] have not been heard from since demonstrations began on February 17.”

UPDATE 08:01 GMT: Sky News is reporting that “substantial payments were made to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime” by the UK to allow Britons to be evacuated from Libya country. “Libya still controls its own airspace so if any government wants to land in the country permission must be sought from Libyan officials,” the report added.

UPDATE 07:41 GMT: The Telegraph, on the matter of Gaddafi money in the UK: “The funds are expected to be seized within days. The Treasury is understood to have set up a unit to trace Col Gaddafi’s assets in Britain, which are thought to include billions of dollars in bank accounts, commercial property and a $16 million mansion in London. In total, the Libyan regime is said to have around $32 billion in liquid assets, mostly in London. These are expected to be frozen as part of an international effort to force the dictator from power. A Whitehall source said: ‘The first priority is to get British nationals out of Libya. But then we are ready to move in on Gaddafi’s assets, the work is under way. This is definitely on the radar at the highest levels.'”

UPDATE 07:21 GMT: Reuters is reporting that Libyan state television said the government was raising wages, increasing food subsidies and ordering special allowances for all families, in its first practical attempt to enroll the support of citizens since the uprising began. Each family will receive 500 Libyan dinars ($400) to help cover increased food costs, and wages for some categories of public sector workers will increase by 150 percent, the television station said.

UPDATE 06:49 GMT: Heading into Friday, February 25th, here’s how The New York Times and The Wall Street journal summarized yesterday’s events in Libya:

NYT: Rebels seeking to overturn the 40-year rule of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi repelled a concerted assault by his forces on Thursday on cities close to the capital, removing any doubt that Libya’s patchwork of protests had evolved into an increasingly well-armed revolutionary movement. The series of determined stands by rebel forces on Thursday presented the gravest threat yet to the Libyan leader.

WSJ: Rebels menaced Gaddafi’s Tripoli stronghold from all sides Thursday, as insurgent commanders said they have sent troops for an offensive against Tripoli and residents of the capital prepared their first mass demonstration in days on Friday.

Thirty miles west of Gaddafi’s shrinking base of power, anti-regime forces battled for the oil-industry town of Al-Zawiya. On Thursday evening, opposition forces gained control of Misurata, a coastal city 130 miles east of Tripoli.

In Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city and the hub of eastern Libya, a group of army colonels who recently defected said they are plotting the end their former commander’s 42-year reign, which began to crumble last week as Libyans joined the anti-authoritarian protests roiling the Arab world.

“We have a plan to bring down Tripoli,” Colonel Tareq Saad Hussein, one of seven former colonels who have taken charge of rebel forces in Benghazi, said in an interview. “We will not stop until we liberate the whole country.” Col. Hussein said his team had already begun sending rebels West toward Tripoli in small groups to slip past forces loyal to Gaddafi.

Tripoli residents, meanwhile, said anti-regime groups sent a wave of text messages Thursday urging residents to meet en masse Friday for prayers at the city’s Green Square as a sign of defiance against Gaddafi.

Residents of Tajura, a suburb of Tripoli, say pro-government militias have fought running battles against local youths. But the government has moved in tanks and set up road blocks on most main streets of the town, and so far remain in control over the area, residents say.

Col. Hussein said his forces were also working to hunt down Gaddafi, adding that intelligence from friendly senior army officers suggested Gaddafi was moving from house to house to avoid detection.

“Gaddafi’s days are numbered,” said Col. Hussein. “If we capture him, he will be publicly prosecuted for his crimes. But if the youth find him first, I don’t think I’ll see Gaddafi in less than 40 or 50 pieces.”


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