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Unrest will lead to civil war: Gaddafi's son

Unrest will lead to civil war: Gaddafi's son

25 more killed in Sunday's violence in Libya, taking the death toll in recent unrest to 209.

Tripoli:The son of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi on early Monday proposed the speedy implementation of significant democratic reforms in the traditionally restrictive country, while warning of a chaotic civil war, return to colonialism and mass poverty if citizens sided with anti-government demonstrators.

"Tomorrow, we can speak rationally, we can spare the blood, we can stand all together for the sake of Libya," Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said during a speech on Libyan state television that he said was unscripted. But if the unrest continues, "forget about democracy, forget about reform ... It will be a fierce civil war."

While criticising international media for overstating its extent, the younger Gaddafi acknowledged the violence in Libya as well as "mistakes" by police and military in addressing unrest. Still, he principally blamed drunks, criminals and foreigners for fanning dissent and instigating attacks that threatened to tear apart Libya.

"This is a national treason," he said. "Each one of us wants to be a leader, each one of us wants to be a prince."

Saif Gaddafi, appointed in 2009 as Libya's general coordinator, insisted his father, Moammar, was not like recently deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. He also said Libya was unlike those two countries, predicting its civil war would be "1,000 times worse" and its economic hardship even more severe.

While he mentioned that the unrest centered in Benghazi, the younger Gaddafi did not comment on reports from multiple eyewitnesses that Libya's second-largest city was in the hands of protesters and their military allies after several days of unrest.

Obtaining independent confirmation on events in Libya is very difficult. The Libyan government maintains tight control on communications and has not responded to repeated requests from CNN for access to the country. CNN has interviewed, however, numerous witnesses by phone.

Some of the military in Benghazi had dropped allegiance to Moammar Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya for 42 years, according to witness reports. Saif Gaddafi, however, said that the military remained loyal to the ruling government and would be taking an increasingly active role in suppressing unrest in the coming days.

Eyewitnesses also reported fires and clashes between scores of anti-government demonstrators and security forces in Tripoli, the capital of Moammar Gaddafi's government that until Sunday had not seen significant unrest.

Saif Gaddafi conceded these are "difficult times" and that "there are people inside Libya who are opposing us." Even as he cast blame, the leader's son also acknowledged changing times regionally and proposed "radical" reforms -- like bolstering local governments, relaxing restrictive laws and drafting a constitution, which does not yet exist.

Michele Dunne, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, noted that the Western-educated Said Gadhifi has pushed such reforms previously, but they have not gotten much traction.

Libya's ambassador to the Arab League said Sunday he resigned his position on Saturday over "the killing of innocent people." Abdel Ehuni said the protesters are asking for "normal things" and that Gaddafi is "over, finished." He speculated that the Libyan leader has only a day or two left in power because "he lost the people."

Earlier Sunday, new clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces in Libya killed another 25 people, a doctor at Benghazi's Al Jalla Hospital said, as protesters used an explosives-laden car and a tank to attack a military camp in Benghazi, according to witnesses.

The attack followed a clash between troops and marchers in a funeral procession in Benghazi. Sunday's violence brought the death toll in the recent unrest to 209, according to medical sources and others on the ground.

Saif Gaddafi, though, claimed in his speech that international media had overstated the death toll. He also claimed foreign nations and "illegal immigrants" had stirred the uprising, with some dissenters attacking government installations as well as stealing caches of weapons.

However, one man told CNN that uniformed troops had opened fire on thousands of mourners Sunday in Benghazi, as they passed through the streets during a funeral procession honoring those killed the previous day.

"The situation is very, very grim at the moment," he told CNN. "... What we have here can only be described as genocide."

The clashes escalated after the incident involving the funeral procession, centered around the military camp. Protesters packed at least one car with explosives Sunday and sent it crashing into a compound wall at the camp, eyewitnesses said. Security forces then fired on the protesters as they attempted to breach the camp.

On the camp's southern side, meanwhile, protesters drove a tank from a nearby army base in another attempt to break in, witnesses said. They have also obtained other weapons, the protester said. Protesters who speak to CNN are not being identified for safety reasons.

Libyan state television reported the camp was defended, and that protesters were being warned on loudspeakers not to attack the compound. The network called it an act of sabotage.

The protester said the military camp is significant because it houses Gaddafi's eastern palace. "It's a symbol of his dominance here," he said. "And it's the last symbol, basically."

He appealed to nations around the world for help, saying "The situation is extreme here."

Other nations expressed concern about the situation Sunday. British Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke on Sunday with Gaddafi's son and "made clear the UK's grave concern at the escalation of violence," the Foreign Office said in a statement. "He expressed alarm at reports of large numbers of people being killed or attacked by Libyan security forces. The Foreign Secretary told Mr. Gaddafi that the Libyan government's actions were unacceptable and would result in worldwide condemnation."

The United States also said it was "gravely concerned with disturbing reports and images coming out of Libya.

"We are working to ascertain the facts, but we have received multiple credible reports that hundreds of people have been killed and injured in several days of unrest - and the full extent of the death toll is unknown due to the lack of access of international media and human rights organizations," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said in a statement.

US officials have communicated to Libyan officials including Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa "our strong objections to the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators," Crowley said. "Libyan officials have stated their commitment to protecting and safeguarding the right of peaceful protest. We call upon the Libyan government to uphold that commitment and hold accountable any security officer who does not act in accordance with that commitment."

Earlier, the State Department said it had authorized the voluntary departure from Libya of family members of US embassy staff.

"While demonstrations have not been directed toward Westerners, U.S. citizens are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security," the department said.

People who appeared to be African mercenaries circled Benghazi's security headquarters Sunday. Meanwhile, thousands of people, including many lawyers, remained camped outside the city's high court chanting, "The people want to bring down the regime."

A report from Libya's state-run JANA news agency blames "acts of sabotage and burning" on outsiders aiming to undermine the nation's stability, security and unity. The report claims that the unrest has been fomented in Libya as well as Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon and Iran by an Israeli-led network of covert operatives.

Amnesty International also called on Gaddafi to rein in his security forces.

"It looks like Libya's leader may have ordered his forces to put down the protests virtually at any cost, and that cost is being paid in the lives of Libyans," said Malcolm Smart, the organization's director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement.

The reported death toll grew quickly over the weekend, standing at 184 before Sunday's violence. Doctors at one hospital said there was a shortage of beds and facilities since there are only 15 operating rooms. They said the hospital is using a nearby school to store some of the dead bodies until they are transported to morgues and cemeteries, and they have appealed to people to donate blankets.

Citizens spoke of a food shortage in various parts of the city. Libyans in Benghazi told CNN the internet remained down in the city and electricity was cut off for the second night in the row, but was back in the morning.

"There are a lot of people getting killed for their freedom," a protester told CNN Sunday. "Our goal is simple: We want Gaddafi to leave. We want freedom. ... We want democracy."

The man, a technology expert who has set up cameras airing live online video streams around Benghazi, estimated that the numbers of anti-government demonstrators in the city has grown by 20 per cent since the protests began Tuesday.

Others in Libya reported similar protests in the cities of al-Baida, Ajdabiya and significantly in Misratah - an indication that the demonstrations centered in the east were spreading west.

The doctor who gave CNN the death toll, at the Benghazi hospital said Sunday she worries more violence will ensue.

"I think - and I hope not - it's going to be (a) more disastrous situation than yesterday because yesterday was more of a disaster than the two days before," she said. "I'm so scared."

Demonstrations against Gaddafi began last week, part of the wave of protest that has swept the Arab world since January's revolt in neighboring Tunisia. Protesters have said the violent crackdown by security forces has left them energized.

In Tripoli, clashes broke out between a large crowd of demonstrators and people who appeared to be African mercenaries in the center of the city, according to an activist. Elsewhere, hundreds of protesters were demonstrating in front of the courthouse, the activist said. Both groups were calling for the downfall of the regime.

A woman also said she saw demonstrators running down a Tripoli street outside her window, chased by apparent mercenaries in pickup trucks. The Africans were firing at the demonstrators and throwing tear gas canisters at them, she said. Many families have closed their windows and turned off their lights out of fear, she said.
first published:February 21, 2011, 08:15 IST