Saif al-Islam Gaddafi appeared on Libyan state television denied rumors that Col Gaddafi had fled Libya, saying his father remained in Libya “leading the battle” and has support of army. (map, from bbcimg.co.uk)
Col Gaddafi came to power in Libya 42 years ago.
In a lengthy TV address, the first comment on the unrest by a senior figure from the Libyan leadership, he also warned that civil war could hit the country.
While anti-government protests spread to the country’s capital Tripoli where people could be heard chanting slogans calling for the toppling of the regime, Saif Gaddafi offered significant political reforms and admitted that the police and army had made “mistakes”.
But according to him the death toll is lower than reported.
Saying at least 233 people have died since last Thursday, Human Rights Watch urged governments to tell Libya to stop the unlawful killing of protesters.
On Sunday evening, witnesses said tear gas and live ammunition were being used against protesters by the security forces.
Snipers on rooftops fired indiscriminately into the crowd with what sounded like machine guns, said a man who attended a rally in Tripoli’s central Green Square.
“People were shot in the head and in the back. I’ve now taken refuge in my home. I’m afraid to leave. There is a climate of fear,” he told the BBC.
Just like in Benghazi, unconfirmed reports that African mercenaries were being deployed against protesters again surfaced.
Destruction and attack
Because of a government crackdown on the internet and media communications, verifying information from Libya has been difficult for the medias.
However credible reports suggest a police station in the capital was burnt down and a building belonging to the country’s ruling party was also attacked and set ablaze.
Even though there were no immediate reports of casualties, witnesses said security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition in the Gourghi area of the city.
West of Tripoli, a South Korean-run construction site was attacked by hundreds of Libyans, some of them were armed with knives and guns, an unnamed official at South Korea’s foreign ministry told Reuters news agency.
The attack sparked a clash in which at least 15 Bangladeshi and three South Korean employees of the site were hurt, two of the Bangladeshis with serious stab wounds.
In recent decades South Korean companies have worked on hundreds of construction projects in Libya.
The protests and violence started and are more important in Benghazi, the country’s second city, and a region where Gaddafi’s grip has always been weaker than elsewhere in the oil-rich desert nation.
After four days of unrest the city seems to be largely under the control of protesters. And according to unconfirmed reports an army general there has defected to the opposition.
Hospitals in the city are struggling to cope with casualties.
Habib al-Obaidi, a surgeon at the Al-Jalaa hospital there, said that on Sunday afternoon alone the bodies of 50 people, mostly shot dead, were brought in. Two hundred wounded had arrived, he said.
“One of the victims was obliterated after being hit by an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) to the abdomen,” he said.
He added that members of an army unit known as the “Thunderbolt” squad had brought wounded comrades to the hospital. The soldiers said they had defected to the cause of the protesters and had fought and defeated Gaddafi’s elite guards.
“They are now saying that they have overpowered the Praetorian Guard and that they have joined the people’s revolt,” another man at the hospital, lawyer Mohamed al-Mana, told the Reuters news agency by telephone.
Fresh demonstrations have also been reported in other cities, such as Tobruk, al-Bayda and Misrata.
And the protests have been endorsed by representatives of the Warfla tribe, the biggest in the country, which is another blow to Col Gaddafi’s rule.
Reuters news agency reported that the leader of the eastern al-Zuwayya tribe threatened to cut oil exports unless authorities halted what he called the “oppression of protesters”.
While Abdel Moneim al-Honi, Libya’s envoy to the Arab League, announced he was “joining the revolution”, the country’s ambassador to India, Ali al-Essawi, told the BBC he was resigning in protest at his government’s violent crackdown on demonstrators.
‘Forget oil and petrol’
During his speech on Libyan state television, Saif Gaddafi said “Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt”.
He also poured scorn on protesters, talking of “drunkards and thugs” driving tanks about the streets of Benghazi.
Promising a conference on constitutional reforms within two days, he said Libyans should “forget oil and petrol” and prepare themselves for occupation by “the West” if they failed to agree.
“You can say we want democracy and rights, we can talk about it, we should have talked about it before. It’s this or war. Instead of crying over 200 deaths, we will cry over hundreds of thousands of deaths.
“Brothers, there are $200bn worth of projects at stake now. We will agree to all these issues immediately. We will then be able to keep our country, unlike our neighbours.
“Or else, be ready to start a civil war and chaos and forget oil and petrol.”
Saif Gaddafi also criticised the foreign media for what he termed their exaggeration of the extent of the violence in Libya.
He said troops had opened fire on protesters because they were not trained to handle civil unrest.
According to witnesses in Tripoli, Saif Gaddafi’s speech was followed by an escalation of violence, as supporters of his father flooded into the city’s central square and confronted anti-government protesters.
Reuters quoted a US official as saying that Washington was weighing “all appropriate actions” in response to Libya’s violent crackdown, and was analysing Saif Gaddafi’s speech.
The draft of a joint statement to be agreed later on Monday during a meeting of European Union foreign ministers suggests they were set to condemn the repression of protesters in Libya.
Having ruled the oil-rich state since a coup in 1969, Col Gaddafi is the Arab world’s longest-serving leader.
After the fall of long-time Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January, and the fall of Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak on 11 February, the wave of pro-democracy protest carries on in the Middle East region.