Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, who has lost control of much of the country’s oil-rich east, appealed to citizens to end violence as his forces stepped up a crackdown on opponents and more than 100 people were reportedly shot dead.
Qaddafi blamed the uprising against his 41-year rule on “drugged kids” and al-Qaeda, speaking by telephone on state television today for the first time since a Feb. 22 speech in which he vowed to fight “until his last drop of blood.” He said he regretted the deaths during the unrest.
“You want to change the government -- you can do it any day through the revolutionary committees,” Qaddafi said, referring to his own state structures. He said protesters had no demands of their own and were echoing those of Osama bin Laden.
As he was speaking, anti-government opponents were consolidating their control over eastern cities, while foreign governments began discussing possible actions and advanced efforts to extract their citizens from what fleeing Egyptians said was a bloodbath.
The unrest in Africa’s third-biggest oil producer sent crude advancing for a sixth day. Brent crude reached a 30-month high of almost $120 a barrel in London. Crude for April delivery rose to $103.41 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest intraday price since Sept. 29, 2008. The Stoxx 600 capped its longest losing streak in almost five months.
Markets are responding to concern that crude supplies may be further affected if the struggle against Qaddafi becomes more protracted or violent, possibly leading to civil war. Barclays Capital estimated that about 1 million barrels of daily oil production may have been cut.
More than 100 people were killed in the western town of Az- Zawiyah as forces loyal to Qaddafi attacked protesters, Al Jazeera television said.
Egyptians returning home through a Libyan checkpoint that had fallen to Qaddafi’s opponents said today that his supporters, most of them foreign mercenaries, were attacking anyone out on the streets of the capital, Tripoli.
“It’s a massacre in there,” Mohamed Yehia, 23, said after entering the Egyptian border town of Salloum. “He is crazy. The world must know what he’s doing to his people.”
Protesters calling for regime change in Libya and elsewhere in the region have been driven by a combination of economic complaints such as high prices and scarce jobs, and the repression of political and civil rights by leaders in power for decades. In the past month, the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt have been toppled through popular revolts.
In the east, Qaddafi’s opponents organized committees of civilians to run and defend their cities with the help of troops who deserted his forces. In Benghazi, the country’s second- largest city, anti-Qaddafi militias in front of the courthouse were collecting weapons from people who had seized them from army supplies, a local resident said by phone, declining to be identified due to concern over reprisals.
Anti-government protesters appeared to be in control of the entire eastern coastline, Al Jazeera reported today, as clashes between pro- and anti-government forces broke out in other cities, including Sabha in the southwest, and Sabhatha and Az- Zawiyah, both west of Tripoli.
Major General Suleiman Mahmoud, commander of the Libyan army in Tobruk, told Al Jazeera that his forces have deserted Qaddafi and are siding with local residents. “We are supporting the Libyan people,” he said in a phone interview with the channel. He said Tobruk was peaceful and that residents were organizing themselves.
“The possibility of civil war only exists if Qaddafi stays,” Mohammed Ali Abdallah, deputy head of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, the main exiled opposition group, said today.
Qaddafi has led Libya since coming to power in a military coup in 1969, making him the world’s longest-serving non-royal leader. He refers to himself as “leader and guide of the revolution,” saying in the Feb. 22 speech that because he isn’t a president or head of state, he can’t step down.
Qaddafi “has always been an ‘unusual’ person: erratic, unpredictable and unconventional,” George Lane, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen who had headed the U.S. Embassy’s office in Benghazi, said today by e-mail. Lane said he met Qaddafi during the 1969 coup. “In some ways he was ‘crazy like a fox.’ Now he sounds like he may be out of control,” Lane said.
The border crossing at Salloum swelled with people trying to escape the growing violence, including thousands of Egyptians as well as 400 Chinese citizens transported by their government from Libya in buses.
“The mercenaries are in the streets and they’re killing anyone who leaves his house,” said Nabil Abdel Raouf, 35, an Egyptian construction worker who lived in the eastern Libyan town of Derna, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from the border. “My brother and cousins have been trying to leave Tripoli for four days, but they’re not able to.”
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told parliament yesterday there are “credible” reports that 1,000 people have been killed. Human Rights Watch says at least 300 people have died in the 10 days since the crackdown on protesters began.
“The danger is Qaddafi refuses to go, holes up somewhere, and a bloody struggle ensues to dislodge him,” said Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.
The violence in Libya quickly surpassed unrest in other Arab countries engulfed by demonstrations. In his speech this week, the Libyan leader called the protesters “rats” and “cockroaches,” warning them to stay off the streets and reading a litany of offenses that would justify the death penalty.
Outside the capital, and in Libyan diplomatic missions around the world, cracks in the regime were widening. More than a dozen Libyan envoys have resigned since the uprising began on Feb. 17, including its chief diplomats to the United Nations and to the U.S. World leaders have begun to join Libyans defecting from the regime in calling for international intervention.
Nuri al-Mismari, Qaddafi’s former protocol chief, told Al Jazeera today that Qaddafi “is trying to divide us so that he can be in power but this will not happen.”
Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, Qaddafi’s second-oldest son, denied on state television today reports that warplanes had been used in attacks. One of his brothers, Saadi, in an interview in the London-based Financial Times, contradicted him, saying ships and aircraft had been used to bombard ammunition depots in Benghazi. The New York Times cited an officer as saying three Libyan naval ships were ordered to sail to Benghazi and attack it, and that the crews were torn over what to do.
Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kayem warned on state television late yesterday that al-Qaeda was behind killings in Benghazi. He said the group had established an “emirate” in the city of Derna and would attack Europe if not stopped.
The SITE Monitoring Group, which checks the websites of Islamic militant groups, said yesterday that al-Qaeda’s North African arm, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, expressed solidarity with anti-government forces in Libya and urged Muslims everywhere to support the uprising. “We will do whatever we can to help,” SITE quoted the group as saying.
Libya, with a population of about 6.3 million, pumps 1.6 million barrels of oil a day, selling most of it to Europe, according to Bloomberg estimates. That’s about 1.8 percent of world supply. It’s the third-biggest producer in Africa after Nigeria and Angola, while Libyan reserves of 44.3 billion barrels are the continent’s largest, according to BP Plc’s Statistical Review of World Energy.
“The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous” and those responsible must be held accountable, Obama said after meeting with Clinton at the White House.
Sanctions will “have to be looked at” if the violence continues, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC today. “Britain, with her allies, should be looking at all of the options for the future.”
Evacuations have been complicated by the closing of all airports in Libya except Tripoli’s and by obstruction by Libyan authorities, who have denied requests for extra flights and prevented evacuees from boarding ships. Rough seas delayed the departure of a U.S.-chartered ferry to evacuate Americans from Tripoli, which was due to leave port yesterday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Libya denied requests for extra flights to evacuate Turks from the country, prompting Turkey to begin the biggest sea evacuation in its history. Turkey has repatriated 5,516 of its estimated 25,000 citizens from Libya so far, his ministry said today.
China chartered four passenger ships from Greece and Malta and 100 buses from Egypt to move 4,600 of its estimated 30,000 nationals away from the violence, its Foreign Ministry said.
Overnight, Cameron ordered a Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules to fly from Malta to Tripoli to collect remaining British citizens from the city. Two planes left Tripoli, with a third to follow, carrying at least 260 people, the Foreign Office said. A Royal Navy frigate was taking Britons from Benghazi to Malta.
Libya is the latest regime in the region to experience a popular uprising following the toppling of governments in Tunisia and Egypt. Demonstrations have also occurred in Yemen and Bahrain, prompting Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, to introduce moves intended to increase living standards. King Abdullah yesterday announced at least $11 billion in spending increases on social security and housing.
To contact the reporters on this story: Benjamin Harvey in Istanbul at firstname.lastname@example.org; Maram Mazen in Salloum, Egypt, at email@example.com; Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com.