Libya in turmoil as hundreds die

Steve Dinneen
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VIOLENT protests in Libya threatened to spiral out of control yesterday, with hundreds reported dead and Colonel Gaddafi’s 42-year reign under serious threat.

Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam attempted to calm protesters, promising “reform and democracy” and blaming foreign instigators and radicals for the outbreaks of violence.

He said: “They have started a campaign to bring Libya to a point reached by Egypt and Tunisia.

“Security forces have pre-empted this and arrested some of the people involved. A few people have died and violence against the police has escalated. We will have a new Libya, one we have dreamed of. We can have reforms without destroying our country.”

He told protesters the country could descend into civil war if the violence continues, claiming swathes of the country remain loyal to his father.

Thousands of protesters clashed with supporters of Gaddafi in Tripoli’s Green Square, with helicopter gunships and snipers said to have been deployed. Protesters have also taken control of military bases and tanks.

At least 50 people were killed and 100 seriously wounded in the space of just a few hours last night. A further 84 people were killed on Saturday and 20 in overnight clashes, with some commentators claiming more than 300 people have died since the violence began. Saif al-Islam claimed foreign media organisations have exaggerated the numbers.

Protesters in the streets of the Libyan capital were throwing stones at billboards of Colonel Gaddafi while police used tear gas to try to disperse them.

The opposition is demanding a constitutional monarchy that gives citizens a greater role in a directly elected government. It also wants the release of political prisoners.

Foreign secretary William Hague yesterday urged Libya to begin dialogue with anti-government protesters and implement reforms.

Hague told Saif al-Islam Gaddafi that the Libyan government’s actions were unacceptable and would trigger global condemnation.

Unrest also hit Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Oman, Kuwait, Algeria and Djibouti over the weekend.