Protests singe Arab world, Gaddafi defiant as Libya burns (Roundup)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

TRIPOLI/SANA’A/MANAMA - Muammar Gaddafi Wednesday clung to power as rebellion against his four-decade rule intensified and a Libyan diplomat disclosed that the leader had called for genocide. As the death toll of the latest uprising in the Arab world reached 500, protests continued elsewhere too.

Two youth died in clashes at the Sana’a university in Yemen. Attempts to quell the unrest were seen in Algeria, where emergency was lifted, and in Bahrain, where the government freed political prisoners.

The movement that began in Tunisia and Egypt last month saw Libya on the edge for the eighth day. Libya’s Interior Minister Abdul Fattah Younis al Abidi quit after hearing that some 300 civilians have been killed in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi.

“Gaddafi told me he was planning on using airplanes against the people in Benghazi, and I told him that he will have thousands of people killed if he does that,” CNN quoted Abidi as saying. Though he had quit Monday, the decision became public Wednesday.

A defiant Gaddafi, who has been in power since 1969, in a televised speech Tuesday, refused to step down despite mass uprising and vowed to die “a martyr” in his country.

According to international organisations, over 500 people have been killed and up to 4,000 injured in clashes with government forces since protests against Gaddafi’s regime began Feb 15.

Abidi said he now supports the people and the revolution. Describing Gaddafi as “a stubborn man”, Abidi said “he (Gaddafi) will either commit suicide or he will get killed”, the media report said.

He also called on Libyan security forces “to join the people in the intifada (uprising)”.

The eastern Libyan city of Benghazi was reportedly taken over by protesters after days of violent clashes.

Kharey, a local, told Al Jazeera Wednesday that residents of Benghazi were forming committees to manage the affairs of their city, and that similar committees were being set up in the towns of Beyda and Derna.

In a disturbing development, Ibrahim Dubbashi, deputy ambassador at the Libyan mission to the UN in New York, told reporters that he had information that “genocide” had started in the western region.

“They are attacking the western part,” DPA quoted Dubbashi as saying. “The Gaddafi message today was to call on collaborators to commit genocide against the people.”

Looking at the grave situation in Libya, many countries, including India, have chalked out evacuation plan for their nationals.

India’s plans for possible evacuation through land, air and sea are at present being worked out, India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said in New Delhi. There are about 18,000 Indians in Libya.

Things continued to be grim elsewhere in the Arab world.

In Yemen, at least two youths were shot dead Tuesday night by government supporters during a protest at Sana’a University, the New York Times reported.

There has been mass unrest against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32-year rule for nearly two weeks.

According to medical workers, eight people were injured when government supporters opened fire on the protesters, who have been staging a sit-in in front of the university since Sunday.

About 2,000 protesters remained holed up at the university despite the shooting. They have vowed to stay until Saleh steps down.

Looking at the unrest, some countries have begun feverish efforts to carry out reforms.

Algeria’s cabinet has adopted a decision to lift the country’s 19-year emergency.

The government said the order would come into force “without delay” in the North African nation that borders Libya.

The protests in Algeria began one day after mass demonstrations forced Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to step down after 30 years in power Feb 11, and one month after demonstrators across the border in Tunisia toppled their longtime leader, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Not just Algeria, Bahrain too saw an attempt to calm the situation.

Bahrain released 25 political prisoners following an order of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa who left the country for Saudi Arabia for consultations Wednesday after a week of anti-regime protests.

CNN reported that about 25 detainees, described by the king as “prisoners of conscience”, were released Tuesday night and proceedings against other prisoners were halted, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said.

The releases bring to about 100 the total number of political detainees so far released, Nabil Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights was quoted as saying.

But, he said, about 400 people are still detained on politically-inspired charges.

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