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Gadhafi cracks down hard on protesters

February 24th, 2011

Protesters carrying a pre-1969 Libyan flag and holding up a banner during a demonstration against Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi outside Downing Street in London on Feb. 22. (AP)

As Egypt continued to take significant steps earlier this week toward a new government, its neighbor, Libya, continued to erupt with protests and the violent response of Col. Moammar Gadhafi and his security forces in an effort to shut them down.

Gadhafi, the leader of the oil-rich North African country for the past 40 years, is the latest ruler to deal with an uprising that continues to surface across the Arab world. Along with Egypt, protests in Algeria, Bahrain, Yemen and Iran have sprouted, calling for new governments to replace their respective long-serving rulers.

Protests first started to break out in Benghazi, the country’s second largest city, last week to challenge Gadhafi’s rule. The anti-government movement was met with deadly retaliation from Libyan security forces on Saturday. The death toll was estimated to be at least 104 people, according to Human Rights Watch.

Gadhafi sent his son to Benghazi last week to tell the people that his regime promised reform, and to warn that civil war was on the horizon if the protests would not cease.

Due to the isolationist stance taken by the Libyan government, which has shut down the Internet on multiple occasions and has stopped foreign journalists entering the country, information regarding the events remains somewhat limited. Most of the information is obtained via telephone interviews with people inside the country.

Reports are leaking out of the country that Gadhafi has employed mercenaries from other non-Arabic speaking African nations. The language barrier between the protesters and these mercenaries is being blamed for much of the violence.

The government is showing signs of weakness, despite their apparent upper-hand in the protest crackdown. Mustafa Abud al-Jeleil, the country’s justice minister, has resigned in protest  of the brutality used by Gadhafi’s security forces.

Ibrahim Dabbashi, the Libyan representative to the United Nations, has also resigned. He referred to Gadhafi’s actions as “genocide” and “an act of war.” He warned all the African nations supplying mercenaries that “they will not see their soldiers coming back to their countries.”

Jen Ziemke, a professor of political science at John Carroll University, said that as more high-profile officials defect from the regime, the more likely it is Gadhafi will step down.

“To encourage their continued defection,” said Ziemke, “the international community or the U.S. might consider quietly encouraging and enabling members of the military and political elite to defect.”

Ziemke believes that the U.S. will face a more difficult challenge in getting Gadhafi to step down than the recently deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

“The risk with publicly calling for his removal is that Gadhafi can claim that since the U.S. or U.N. has called for his removal, this is evidence that the protests are really a foreign provocation when in fact they are motivated from inside, from the Libyans themselves.”

Over the weekend, mounting protests started to form in the capital city of Tripoli. On Monday, witnesses said Ghadafi’s forces had taken over most of the city, roaming the streets in trucks and helicopters, shooting wildly at the protesters.

According to Human Rights Watch, the death toll rose to an estimated 220 deaths after Monday’s violence. The crackdown in Libya has been by far the deadliest out of the recent Arab protests.

With every confrontation, the sentiment against Gadhafi seems to grow. “It is too late for dialogue now,” a Benghazi resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told The New York Times.  “Too much blood has been shed. The more brutal the crackdown will be, the more determined the protesters will become.”