Saturday, February 26, 2011

Juan Cole: Popular Army to March on Tripoli, as Qaddafi Massacres Protesters

Popular Army to March on Tripoli, as Qaddafi Massacres Protesters
by Juan Cole
Informed Comment


Aljazeeera Arabic is reporting that Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi has lost control of much of Tripoli and really only dominates the area of the capital immediately around his palace. Certainly, his security forces are having to fight for control.

Time reports that 100,000 Libyan soldiers in the east who have joined the popular forces are preparing to march on the capital, Tripoli.

The Saudi newspaper Al-Watan Online reports in Arabic that that the noose seemed to tighten Friday around the neck of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in the capital of Tripoli after Friday prayers. Qaddafi himself gave a defiant speech at the central Green Square in which he threatened to open arms depots so that his civilian and tribal supporters could arm themselves and take on the protesters. (He doesn’t seem to have considered that the dissidents might raid the depots as well, but likely his officer corps isn’t as addled as he).

There were reports from several cities of mutinies in the ranks of the military, with military personnel going over to the protesters in disgust at the brutal repression Qaddafi had ordered against them. More high officials, including ambassadors, announced their resignations, after which they joined the rebellion. These included the attorney general, Abd al-Rahman al-Abbar, and the ambassadors to France, Russia, the Arab League, and the Human Rights Council at the Hague.

In the capital of Tripoli, demonstrations broke out after Friday prayers in the Fashloum, Jumhuria, Ashur, Suq al-Jum`ah and Tahira quarters and at Algeria Square, demanding the fall of the Qaddafi regime. They were, however, confronted with gunfire by members of the security forces and of Qaddafi’s popular committees. Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that for the first time dissident, armed militias took on the pro-regime security forces in running firefights that left 7 dead.

Al-Watan says that eyewitnesses reported that dozens of protesters were shot. Some observers asserted that 9,000 members of the Khamis Brigade (the Qaddafi family’s personal guard, which includes mercenaries) had spread out through the capital. In addition, the regime deployed tanks, jets and heavy artillery, according to an unconfirmed report relayed by an Egyptian guest worker from the capital who reached al-Bayda in the east. The same source asserted that there were significant defections in Tripoli from the regular army on Friday.

Aljazeera reports that some congregants stormed out of mosques in Tripoli in disgust at the conservative and pro-regime themes of the sermons.

In contrast, Aljazeera says, a cleric in the town of Mselata (80 km east of the capital) whipped up his congregation and called on them to fight back against the regime. Some 2,000 of them then set out for Tripoli with weapons they had taken off defeated security forces. At the city of Tajoura they ran into opposition from French-speaking mercenaries in Qaddafi’s employ, and got into a gunfight with them. The protesters were prevented from advancing on Tripoli, and suffered an unspecified number of casualties. Refugees from Tajoura brought the story with them as they fled to Tunisia, Aljazeera said.

In Benghazi, al-Watan says, tens of thousands of people came out in front of the court building, which has been turned into a center of popular governance, for a big celebration in which children joined. Patrols were mounted by citizen committees and by troops who had joined the rebellion. Other troops were putting their weapons up for sale. One security source estimated that 500 protesters had been killed in Benghazi before it fell to the opposition.

To Read the Rest of the Report

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