LIBYA PROTESTS: Gaddafi blames unrest on al Qaeda 24Feb11 February 25, 2011

Aljazeera -  24 February 2011


Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has said in a speech on Libyan state television that al-Qaeda is responsible for the uprising in Libya.

“It is obvious now that this issue is run by al-Qaeda,” he said, speaking by phone from un unspecified location.

He said that the protesters were young people who were being manipulated by al-Qaeda, and that many were doing so under the influence of drugs.

“No one above the age of 20 would actually take part in these events,” he said. “They are taking advantage of the young age of these people [to commit violent acts] because they are not legally liable!”

At the same time, the leader warned that those behind the unrest would be prosecuted in the country’s courts.

He called on Libyan parents to keep their children at home.

“How can you justify such misbehaviour from people who live in good neighbourhoods?” he asked.

The situation in Libya was different to Egypt or Tunisia he said, arguing that unlike people in the neighbouring countries, Libyans have “no reason to complain whatsoever”. Libyans had easy access to low interest loans and cheap daily commodities, he argued.

The one reform he did hint might be possible was a raise in salaries.

He argued that he was a purely “symbolic” leader with no real political power, comparing his role to that played by Queen Elizabeth in England.

He said that the protests could cut off Libya oil production.

“If [the protesters] do not go to work regularly, the flow of oil will stop,” he said.

Struggling

Gaddafi is struggling to maintain his authority in the country, as major swathes of territory in the east of the vast North African country now appear to be under the control of pro-democracy protesters.

On Thursday, state television reported that he was due to make a public address to residents of Az Zawiyah, a town that saw fierce clashes between pro- and anti-government forces through the day.

Ali, an eyewitness to the shooting, told Al Jazeera by phone that soldiers began shooting at the protesters with heavy artillery at around 6am and had continued for 5 hours.

“They were trying to kill the people, not terrify them,” he said, explaining that the soldiers had aimed at the protesters’ head and chest.

He estimated as many as 100 protesters had been killed. Approximately 400 people had been injured and were now in the town’s hospital. He said he had filmed the bodies after the shooting had stopped, but was unable to send the footage because internet access has been cut off.

“The people here didn’t ask for anything, they just asked for a constitution and democracy and freedom, they didn’t want to shoot anyone,” he said.

Gunfire could be heard in the background as Ali spoke, and he said the protesters were expecting the soldiers to launch another direct attack on Martyrs’ Square later in the evening.

Despite the risk of more shooting, he said he and the other protesters would continue their protest, even if it cost their lives.

Earlier, a Libyan army unit led by Gaddafi’s ally, Naji Shifsha, blasted the minaret of a mosque being occupied by protesters in Az Zawiyah, according to witnesses. They said that protesters had sustained , but exact figures remain unclear.

According to witnesses, pro-Gaddafi forces also attacked the town of Misrata, which was under the control of protesters. They told Al Jazeera that “revolutionaries had driven out the security forces”, who had used “heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns”.

They said the pro-Gaddafi forces were called the “Hamza brigade”.

Similar clashes have also been reported in the cities of Sabha in the south, and Sabratha, near Tripoli, which is in the west.

Also on Thursday, anti-government protesters appeared to be in control of the country’s eastern coastline, running from the Egyptian border through to the cities of Tobruk and Benghazi, the country’s second largest city.

Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, said on Wednesday that protesters also held the city of Cyrenaica.

Other towns that appear to no longer be under Gaddafi’s control include Derna and Bayda, among others across the country’s east.

Reuters news agency, quoting Egyptian nationals fleeing the town of Zoura in the country’s west, reported that anti-government protesters had taken over the city.

Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, one of Gaddafi’s top security official and a cousin, defected on Wednesday, saying in a statement issued by his Cairo office that he left the country “in protest and to show disagreement” with “grave violations to human rights and human and international laws”.

Al-Dam was travelling to Syria from Cairo on a private plane, sources told Al Jazeera. He denied allegations that he was asked to recruit Egyptian tribes on the border to fight in Libya and said he went to Egypt in protest against his government’s used of violence.


Communications blocked

Libyan authorities are working hard to prevent news of the events in the country from reaching the outside world.

Thuraya, a satellite phone provider based in the United Arab Emirates, has faced continuous “deliberate inference” to its services in Libya, the company’s CEO told Al Jazeera.

Samer Halawi, the company’s CEO, said his company will be taking legal action against the Libyan authorities for the jamming of its satellite.

“This is unlawful and this in uncalled for,” he said.

The company’s engineers have had some success in combating the jamming, and operations were back on almost 70 per cent of the Libyan territory on Thursday, Halawi said. The blocking was coming from a location in Tripoli.

The Libyan government has blocked landline and wireless communications, to varying degrees, in recent days.

Some phone services were down again on Thursday. In the town of Az Zawiyah, phone lines were working but internet access was blocked.

Nazanine Moshri, reporting from the northern side of the Tunisian-Libyan border near the town of Ras Ajdir, said that security forces were confiscating cellphones and cameras from people crossing into Tunisia.

“The most important thing to them is to not allow any footage to get across the border into Tunisia,” she reported.

‘People in control’

Soldiers in the cities controlled by the protesters have switched sides, filling the void and no longer supporting Gaddafi’s government. In a statement posted on the internet, army officers stationed in Misurata pledged their “total support” for the protesters.

Major-General Suleiman Mahmoud, the commander of the armed forces in Tobruk, earlier told Al Jazeera that the troops led by him had switched loyalties.

“We are on the side of the people,” he said. “I was with him [Gaddafi] in the past but the situation has changed – he’s a tyrant.”

Thousands gathered in Tobruk to celebrate their taking of the city on Wednesday, with Gaddafi opponents waving flags of the old monarchy, honking cars and firing in the sky.

“In 42 years, he turned Libya upside-down,” said Hossi, an anti-government protester there. “Here the leader is a devil. There is no one in the world like him.”

Armed opponents of the government are also patrolling the highway that runs along the country’s Mediterranean coast. Al Jazeera’s correspondent said that even in the towns under anti-government forces’ control, gangs of pro-Gaddafi militias had been reported to be roaming the streets at night.

“From what I’ve seen, I’d say the people of eastern Libya are the one’s in control,” Hoda Abdel-Hamid, Al Jazeera’s correspondent who is in Libya, reported. She said that no Libyan officials had been manning the border where Al Jazeera’s team crossed into the country.

Capital paralysed

Tripoli, the Libyan capital, meanwhile, is said to be virtually locked down, and streets remained mostly deserted, even though Gaddafi had called for his supporters to come out in force on Wednesday and “cleanse” the country from the anti-government demonstrators.

Libyan authorities said food supplies were available as “normal” in the shops and urged schools and public services to restore regular services, although economic activity and banks have been paralysed since Tuesday.

London-based newspaper the Independent reported, however, that petrol and food prices in the capital have trebled as a result of serious shortages.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi’s son, said on Thursday that an international investigation committee and media will be invited to tour Tripoli. During a tour of a state television channel, he emphasised that life was “normal” in the city.

On Wednesday, an army general told Al Jazeera that two pilots had ejected from their air force jet near the town of Agdabia after refusing to bomb civilians in Benghazi, which has been a stronghold of the anti-government protesters.

In addition to desertions by many army troops, Gaddafi has also been faced with several diplomats in key posts, as well as cabinet ministers, refusing to recognise his authority and calling for him to be removed.


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