Revolutions televised and untelevised

As unrest spreads across Libya, The Guardian reports:

In fast-moving developments after midnight, demonstrators were reported to be in Tripoli’s Green Square and preparing to march on Gaddafi’s compound as rumours spread that the leader had fled to Venezuela. Other reports described protesters in the streets of Tripoli throwing stones at billboards of Muammar Gaddafi while police used teargas to try to disperse them.

“People are in the street chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great) and throwing stones at photos of Gaddafi,”an expatriate worker told Reuters by telephone from Tripoli. “The police are firing teargas everywhere, it’s even getting into the houses.”

Libya’s extraordinary day overshadowed drama elsewhere in the region. Tensions eased in Bahrain after troops withdrew from a square in Manama occupied by Shia protesters. Thousands of security personnel were also deployed in the Iranian capital, Tehran, to forestall an opposition rally. Elsewhere in the region unrest hit Yemen, Morocco, Oman, Kuwait and Algeria.

But the eyes of the world were on Benghazi and elsewhere in eastern Libya where shocked witnesses spoke of “massacres” and described corpses shot in the head, chest or neck piling up in hospitals running short of blood and medicines.

According to a Reuters report, Libyan soldiers said they had defected and were joining the protests.

An intelligence source reported that 150 soldiers and officers who disobeyed orders and refused to shoot at protestors would be executed.

Estimates of the total number of fatalities over six days of unprecedented unrest ranged from 233 – the latest figure given by Human Rights Watch – to 285. But some opposition sources gave figures as high as 500.

In the last few hours Al Jazeera reported on its Libya live blog:

Libya’s ambassador to China, Hussein Sadiq al Musrati, has just resigned on air with Al Jazeera Arabic. He called on the army to intervene, and has called all diplomatic staff to resign.

He made claims about a gunfight between Gaddafi’s sons and also claimed that Gaddafi may have left Libya. Al Jazeera has no confirmation of these claims.

On Sunday afternoon, CNN reported:

Libya’s ambassador to the Arab League has resigned amid unrest in the country. Abdel Elhuni said he quit because he cannot be part of a regime that kills innocent people.

Al Jazeera reports:

Appearing on Libyan state television early on Monday morning, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi said his father is in the country and backed by the army. “We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet.”

Seif al-Islam said his father was leading the fight, although he added that some military bases, tanks and weapons had been seized.

“We are not Tunisia and Egypt,” the younger Gaddafi said, referring to the successful uprisings that toppled longtime regimes in Libya’s neighbours

He acknowledged that the army made mistakes during protests because it was not trained to deal with demonstrators but added that the number of dead had been exaggerated, giving a death toll of 84.

Human Rights Watch put the number at 174 through Saturday, and doctors in the eastern city of Benghazi said more than 200 have died since the protests began.

BBC World News editor Jon Williams writes:

In recent years, from Burma, to Afghanistan and Zimbabwe – even in Iran and North Korea – my colleagues have been on the frontline, eyewitness to events making headlines around the globe. In Libya this weekend, we’ve been forced to rely on others’ eyewitness accounts. The geography of the country – much of it is barren desert – means it’s simply not practical for us to enter Libya “under-cover”. Add to that, the ruthlessness of the Libyan authorities, and the scale of violence, and you’ll understand why – just a week after covering Egypt’s own convulsions – Jon Leyne is reporting developments from Cairo.

When violence was last visited on Tripoli and Benghazi, the BBC was there to witness events. Famously, Norman Tebbit condemned Kate Adie’s reporting of the US airstrikes on Libya on April 1986. Twenty five years later, the protests – and the authorities’ response – are taking place with no international reporters present.

The BBC and other news organisations are relying on those on the ground to tell us what’s happening. Their phone accounts – often accompanied by the sound or gunfire and mortars – are vivid. However, inevitably, it means we cannot independently verify the accounts coming out of Libya. That’s why we don’t present such accounts as “fact” – they are “claims” or “allegations”.

It’s just two and a half years since Muammar Gaddafi was welcomed in from the cold in what was then heralded as a victory for real politik.

In September 2008, Time magazine reported:

There haven’t been too many opportunities to say this, but the Bush Administration scored an unqualified success in the Middle East on Friday. In the highest-level U.S. visit to Libya since John Foster Dulles held talks with King Idris Senussi in 1953, Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice arrived in Tripoli and met with the country’s revolutionary leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi. The talks mark the final step in a remarkable rapprochement that offers an example of how violent disputes in the troubled region can be settled through diplomacy rather than war.

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2 thoughts on “Revolutions televised and untelevised

  1. Colm O' Toole

    Desperate situation. The only positive is that in such a battle between the people vs the government the government will surely lose. To much blood has been spilled and to much choas sown for the people to back down.

    The defections by soldiers is great news. Hopefully it will cause a few Generals to attempt a coup (unless he has fled to Venezuela in which case would be seriously disappointed in Chavez who has championed people power as one of his strenghts.)

  2. Norman

    Not sure I’d put Chavez in the role of peoples champion, even if he set out to be. Remember, he wants to be boos forever, just like the rest of those military types, who have all turned out to be despots in one way shape or form.

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