Arab world simmers; Gaddafi’s son warns of rivers of blood (Intro Roundup)

Monday, February 21, 2011

TRIPOLI/MANAMA/NEW DELHI - Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi’s son warned of “rivers of blood” as anti-government protests intensified in the North African country Monday, while a Libyan minister and two diplomats, including its envoy to India, quit to protest the crackdown. Elsewhere in the Arab world the demonstrations continued to swell.

In Tripoli, Gaddafi’s son warned that the country faced a bloody civil war if anti-government protesters refused to accept offers of reform.

Amid reports of growing opposition to Gaddafi’s rule, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, 38, said in a televised speech that his father remained in charge with the army’s backing and would “fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet”. Saif Gaddafi holds a key post in the government.

Protests were reported to have spread Monday from regional towns and cities to the capital, Tripoli and gunfire could be heard ringing out as Saif Gaddafi’s lengthy speech was aired, AKI reported.

Anti-government strikes were Monday reported to be taking place in Libya and government buildings were reported to be on fire.

Libya’s justice minister resigned Monday protesting excessive use of violence against anti-government demonstrators, Xinhua said citing a local newspaper report.

Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil confirmed that he stepped down, Libya’s Quryna newspaper said on its website.

As the protests continued in Libya, Libya’s ambassador to India Ali al-Essawi resigned to protest his government’s crackdown on demonstrators, the BBC reported.

The BBC, on its Arabic service website, said the Libyan envoy also accused his government of deploying foreign mercenaries against the protesters.

A senior Libyan diplomat in China also quit Monday and called on his country’s army to intervene in the political unrest, Al-Jazeera said.

The diplomat, Hussein Sadiq al Musrati, resigned on air while talking to Al-Jazeera Arabic.

Musrati called on the Libyan army to intervene, and called all diplomatic staff to resign, Al-Jazeera said in a posting on its blog.

The protests in Libya have been inspired by the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Tunisia saw a month-long mass unrest which toppled the 23-year rule of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali Jan 14. Barely a few days later Jan 25, protests erupted in Egypt with tens of thousands of demonstrators seeking president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. Mubarak quit Feb 11. The unrest has also hit Bahrain, Iran, Yemen, Algeria and Jordan.

At least 233 people have been killed in Libya since protests broke out Feb 15 against the autocratic Gaddafi’s rule, according to US-based group Human Rights Watch.

HRW urged governments to tell Libya to stop the killing of protesters amid accounts of authorities, reportedly backed by mercenaries, using live ammunition against them.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said the death toll was lower than 233 and condemned the unprecedented uprising against his father’s 41-year rule as a foreign plot. But he admitted that mistakes were made in the violent crackdown against protesters and urged citizens to build a “new Libya”.

“Libya is at a crossroads. If we do not agree today on reforms, we will not be mourning 84 people, but thousands of deaths and rivers of blood will run through Libya,” he said, cited by Arabic TV channel Al-Arabiya.

Al Jazeera channel quoted medical sources as saying that 61 people were killed in the latest protests in Tripoli Monday.

Protesters in the capital ransacked the headquarters of state television overnight and set ablaze the offices of the People’s Committees that are the mainstay of the regime.

A US official said early Monday that the US was weighing “all appropriate actions” in response to Libya’s violent crackdown on protesters who claim tear gas as well as live ammunition was being used against them.

In Bahrain, demonstrators continued to camp at a roundabout in capital Manama.

Al-Jazeera reported that hundreds of protesters were congregated at the Pearl roundabout, which has been the focal point of the unrest that continued for the ninth day.

Bahrain, the smallest state in the Gulf region, is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

In Yemen, a teenager was killed and four people were wounded Monday when security forces attacked pro-democracy protesters in southern port city of Aden.

The soldiers opened fire at the youths who were throwing stones at their military patrol in the city’s Khormaksar district, witnesses were quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.

The death brings to 12 the number of people killed in unrest in Yemen since Thursday.

Yemenis, inspired by the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, are demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down after 32 years of rule.

Shots were also fired at a demonstration in the capital Sanaa, as the anti-government protests continued for 11th consecutive day. Thousands of people also staged sit-ins in the cities of Ibb and Taiz Sunday, the channel said.

A Saleh supporter fired shots from an assault rifle but there were no reported casualties and the government supporters soon dispersed, while the protesters continued their demonstration chanting, “Leave, Ali!”

Saleh, in power since 1978, said Monday that only defeat at the ballot box will make him quit.

In Morocco, five people were killed in anti-government protests seeking political reform, Xinhua reported Monday.

The burnt bodies of five people were found at a bank branch which was set ablaze during demonstrations Sunday in the north Moroccan town of Al-Hoceima, Interior Minister Taib Cherkaoui said.

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