Sunday, February 27, 2011

Libya — The Protests (2011)

Libya — The Protests (2011)

Lynsey Addario/ Corbis, for The New York Times
Updated: Feb. 27, 2011
Libya, an oil-rich nation in North Africa, has been under the firm, if sometimes erratic, control of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi since he seized power in 1969. But in February 2011, the unrest sweeping through much of the Arab world erupted in several Libyan cities. The trajectory of the Libyan revolt has been radically different from those that toppled Arab autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt. Though it began with a relatively organized core of antigovernment opponents in Benghazi, its spread to the capital of Tripoli was swift and spontaneous, outracing any efforts to coordinate the protests, and Colonel Qaddafi has lashed out with a level of violence unseen in either of the other uprisings.
Feb. 27 The ring of rebel control around Tripoli appeared to be tightening, but in a sign that the fight was far from over, armed government forces were seen massing around the city. In Benghazi, protesters nominated the country’s former justice minister to lead a provisional government, moving to avoid the chaos that some analysts warned would overtake a Libya not ruled by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Col. Qaddafi and his inner circle of advisers, and called for an international war crimes investigation into “widespread and systemic attacks” against Libyan citizens. Timeline: Qaddafi
Feb. 26 A bold play by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to prove that he was firmly in control of Libya appeared to backfire as foreign journalists he invited to the capital discovered blocks of the city in open defiance. Witnesses described snipers and antiaircraft guns firing at unarmed civilians, and security forces were removing the dead and wounded from streets and hospitals, apparently in an effort to hide the mounting toll. One day after the United States closed its embassy and imposed unilateral sanctions against Libya, the United Nations Security Council  met in New York to consider imposing international sanctions, including an arms embargo and an asset freeze and travel ban against Col. Qaddafi, his relatives and key members of his government. Timeline: Qaddafi
Feb. 25 In Tripoli, Security forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi used gunfire to try to disperse thousands of protesters who streamed out of mosques after prayers to mount their first major challenge to the government’s crackdown in the capital. Rebel leaders said they were sending forces from nearby cities and other parts of the country to join the fight. International efforts to stem the bloodshed appeared to gain momentum, with the United Nations Security Council scheduled to meet to discuss a draft proposal for sanctions against Libyan leaders and NATO convening an emergency session in Brussels.
Feb. 24 Forces loyal to Col. Qaddafi were reported to be striking back in several cites surrounding Tripoli, as rebellion crept closer to the capital and defections of military officers multiplied. He has called on thousands of mercenaries and irregular security forces, a ruthless and loyal force he has quietly built up over the years, distrustful even of his generals. Clashes were also reported 130 miles east of the capital near Misurata, a city where opposition forces had claimed control. 
Feb. 23 The week-old uprising that has swept Libya appeared headed for a decisive stage, with Col. Qaddafi fortifying his bastion in Tripoli and opponents in the capital saying they were making plans for their first coordinated protest after midday prayers on Feb. 25. The looming signs of a new confrontation came as a growing number of Libyan military officers and officials said that they had broken with Colonel Qaddafi over his intentions bomb and kill Libyan civilians challenging his four decades of rule. The foreign minister of Italy — the former colonial power with longstanding ties — said that nationwide more than 1,000 people were probably dead in the strife. 
Feb. 22 Trying to demonstrate that he was still in control, Colonel Qaddafi appeared on state television.  In a long rambling address, he blamed the unrest on “foreign hands,” a small group of people distributing pills, brainwashing, and the naïve desire of young people to imitate the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Yet the country appeared to slip further into chaos. Opposition forces in eastern Libya, where the rebellion began, moved to consolidate their control.
Feb. 21 The faltering government of Colonel Qaddafi struck back at the mounting protests as helicopters and warplanes besieged parts of Tripoli - the Libyan capital. The escalation of the conflict came after Colonel Qaddafi’s security forces had earlier in the day retreated to a few buildings in Tripoli, fires burned unchecked, and senior government officials and diplomats announced defections. The country’s second-largest city, Benghazi, remained under the control of rebels. News agencies reported that several foreign oil and gas companies were moving to evacuate some workers from the country.
Feb. 20 Libyan security forces again fired on a funeral procession through the city of Benghazi, as residents buried dozens of dead from a crackdown the day before and as a five-day-old uprising against the dictatorship of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi appeared to spread to other cities along the Mediterranean coast. The advocacy group Human Rights Watch said it had proof that at least 173 had been killed since the uprising’s start. 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 Feb. 19 alone. The Libyan government, meanwhile, has attempted to impose a near total blackout on the country. Foreign journalists cannot enter, and internet access has been almost totally cut off.
Feb. 19 Protests continued as the government moved to shut down the Internet. Human rights observers put the death toll in Libya after three days of government crackdowns against protesters at 84.
Feb. 18 The severity of the government's crackdown began to emerge when Human Rights Watch said 24 people had been killed by gunfire and news reports said further clashes with security were feared at the funerals for the dead.
Feb. 17 Protests broke out in several parts of Libya on a so-called Day of Rage to challenge Colonel Qaddafi's 41-year-old iron rule — the region’s longest. Thousands turned out in the restive city of Benghazi; in Tripoli; and at three other locations, according to Human Rights Watch. The state media, though, showed Libyans waving green flags and shouting in support of Colonel Qaddafi.
Feb. 16 A crowd armed with gasoline bombs and rocks protested outside a government office in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, to demand the release of a human rights advocate in Tripoli, the capital. Protesters using social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook then called for nationwide demonstrations to demand Colonel Qaddafi’s ouster. The demonstrators, estimated at several hundred to several thousand, marched to the city’s central square, where they clashed with riot police officers. In the city of Zentan, hundreds marched through the streets and set fire to security headquarters and a police station.
Colonel Qaddafi took power in a bloodless coup in September 1969 and has ruled with an iron fist, seeking to spread Libya’s influence in Africa. He has built his rule on a cult of personality and a network of family and tribal alliances supported by largess from Libya’s oil revenues.
Internationally, he is regarded as an erratic and quixotic figure who travels with an escort of female bodyguards and likes to live in a large tent of the kind used by desert nomads.
In 2003, Colonel Qaddafi moved to refurbish his image abroad, renouncing terrorism and a program to build nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and pledging to pay compensation for victims of the bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Libya later pledged to pay compensation to victims of a disco bombing in Berlin in 1986.
While those moves eased some strains in Colonel Qaddafi’s relationship with the outside world, Western governments have continued to question his human rights record.
Prior to the 2011 unrest, the only hint of potential change in Libya came from Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, a son and possible successor to Colonel Qaddafi, who spoke of dismantling a legacy of Socialism and authoritarianism introduced by his father 40 years ago. Seif Qaddafi proposed far-reaching ideas: tax-free investment zones, a tax haven for foreigners, the abolition of visa requirements and the development of luxury hotels.
Seif  Qaddafi liked to boast that his country could be “the Dubai of North Africa,” he said, citing Libya’s proximity to Europe (the flight from London to Tripoli is under three hours), its abundant energy reserves and 1,200 miles of mostly unspoiled Mediterranean coastline. Libya is wealthier than debt-ridden, oil-poor Dubai. Its $15,000 gross domestic product per person ranks it above Poland, Mexico and Chile, according to the World Bank. The government’s sovereign fund, a reserve of oil revenues, boasts $65 billion. And the government has announced plans to invest $130 billion over the next three years to improve infrastructure.
But the reality of daily life in Tripoli remained far removed from those lofty notions. The streets are strewn with garbage, there are gaping holes in the sidewalks, tourist-friendly hotels and restaurants are few and far between. And while a number of seaside hotels are being built, the city largely ignores its most spectacular asset, the Mediterranean.
Unemployment is estimated as high as 30 percent and much of the potential work force is insufficiently trained.
And a series of crackdowns in 2010 bolstered the view that the hard-line faction championed by Seif Qaddafi’s equally ambitious older brother, Mutassim, the country’s national security adviser, was gaining ground.

General Information on Libya

Official Name: Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Capital: Tripoli (Current local time)
Government Type: Jamahiriya (a state of the masses) in theory, governed by the populace through local councils; in practice, an authoritarian state.
Chief of State: Muammar el-Qaddafi, Col.
Population: 6.037 million (2007, est.)
Area: 679,362 square miles, or slightly larger than Alaska.
Languages: Arabic, Italian, English, all are widely understood in the major cities.
Literacy: Total Population: 82.6%; Male: 92.4%; Female: 72% (2003 est.)
GDP Per Capita: $12,300 (2003)
Year of Independence: 1951

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