The Daily Need is collecting updates from bloggers and activists in Libya as the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi unfolds. We’ll be offering original reporting and interviews with experts, as well as photos and videos from the ground.
Libyans defy crackdown as fighting intensifies across country
A brutal crackdown intended to quash protests has quieted Libya’s capital and instilled fear in its residents. In the eastern city of Zawiya, intense clashes have broken out, leaving protesters there on edge as forces loyal to autocrat Moammar Gadhafi surround the city with vehicles and heavy artillery. In Benghazi, the seat of opposition power, an explosion has killed possibly dozens of people, though the cause remains unclear.
And yet, Libyans have continued to protest in large numbers. A video we posted earlier showed thousands of Libyans taking to the streets in Misurata, a city in northwest Libya, in defiance of the regime’s bloody crackdown. Another video uploaded today to an opposition YouTube channel (posted above) shows thousands more in the town of Zintan, in what bloggers described as a show of solidarity with protesters in Tripoli. An eyewitness said residents from “all of the mountain cities” surrounding Zintan had poured into the city to hold demonstrations.
As the Gadhafi regime digs in and resorts to more desperate measures — shutting off Internet access, kidnapping and arresting demonstrators and blocking the supply of electricity to opposition-held territories — the fighting is likely to intensify. After a week of skirmishes, it’s also somewhat unclear where both sides stand.
Libyan state television has announced, for example, that the Gadhafi government has retaken the city of Zawiya, a key city in northwest Libya that has been the scene of fierce clashes over the last several days. But opposition forces and eyewitnesses have disputed that claim. Anti-Gadhafi forces, meanwhile, say they have won control of Ras Lanuf, a strategic oil town on the Libyan coast, and are now advancing toward Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte.
To help clarify the situation, Iyad El-Baghdadi, a Dubai-based blogger who has been posting updates from contacts in Libya, has put together two helpful maps that show which cities are controlled by opposition forces and which are controlled by Gadhafi. This, according to El-Baghdadi, is the situation in the west near Tripoli:
The Daily Need is signing off for now. For more information on the uprising in Libya, we direct you to the excellent reporting of our colleagues on the broadcast this week:
Need to Know’s Alison Stewart sits down with Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, who says the world must promote political dignity and good governance in the Middle East or “remain hostage to the pathologies of this region, which provide ample opportunity for al Qaeda to reassert its narrative and influence.”
And VII magazine photographer Franco Pagetti tells the story of Libya’s violent clashes — and the ensuing humanitarian crisis — through a series of stunning photographs in this visual essay from Benghazi, a port city in eastern Libya. Need to Know correspondent Mona Iskander narrates.
Please continue to send us tips and suggestions in the comments section below, and follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/pbsneedtoknow.
Gadhafi regime ‘turns off the tap’ on Libya’s Internet
In an intensifying bid to dislodge opposition forces from cities in the east and west, Moammar Gadhafi’s regime has apparently cut off virtually all Internet access within Libya, and has also blocked the supply of electricity to key cities held by anti-government fighters.
Reports began to emerge from Libyan opposition bloggers Friday that the government had once again blocked Internet access, as it did early in the uprising. An eyewitness in the town of Zintan, which is under the control of anti-Gadhafi forces, told the bloggers who run the @feb17voices Twitter feed that “the Internet has been cut here for two days, it’s been disconnected,” according to an English translation.
Google’s “transparency report” (pictured above) shows that Internet traffic within Libya to Google’s search page and other services — such as YouTube — has virtually ceased, falling abruptly to zero around midday Friday.
The network security firm Renesys looked into the reports and confirmed on its blog late Friday afternoon that Internet traffic had essentially been turned off. “Google’s YouTube traffic from Libya has grown steadily all week. Tonight, however, we suspect that someone has turned off the tap on the Libyan Internet again,” the company wrote on its blog.
Access to the Internet has been essential to the opposition movement’s ability to influence global opinion. YouTube videos of the government’s brutal crackdown on protesters, for example, have helped spur international condemnation of the Gadhafi regime.
As we reported earlier, bloggers affiliated with the opposition forces and Libyan Youth Movement have also reported that the supply of electricity to Zawiya, a strategic town in the west held by anti-Gadhafi fighters that has been the scene of intense clashes in the past several days, had been shut off.
“Electricity has now been cut in Zawia, Gadhafi [government] say they aim to have the city under their control by the end of the night,” the Libyan Youth Movement wrote Friday.
The decision to close off Internet access is similar to moves made by the regimes of Egypt and Tunisia in the days before those governments were toppled by protesters. The parallels are not lost on bloggers affiliated with Libya’s uprising.
Iyad El-Baghdadi, a Dubai-based blogger who has been posting updates from within Libya, wrote on his Twitter feed Friday: “Mubarak: ‘We’re not Tunisia.’ Gaddafi: ‘We’re not Egypt.’ Whoever is next will say ‘We’re not Libya.’”
Explosion near opposition stronghold as fighting continues
Witnesses and opposition bloggers have reported an explosion outside Benghazi, a city in eastern Libya that has served as the seat of opposition power since the start of the uprising, though the cause of the incident is unclear.
A caller told the @feb17voices Twitter feed that “things are quiet in Benghazi,” except for the explosion several hours ago at “an army base outside Benghazi.” Some opposition bloggers have speculated that the cause was a bombing by government aircraft, or a missile attack from pro-Gadhafi militia in Toyota land cruisers, the same vehicles used in an early morning raid on Benghazi earlier this week.
Other sources suggested the explosion, which took place at an ammunition dump in the town of Rajma just outside Benghazi, was likely caused by an accident, perhaps after opposition fighters entered the base to gather munitions.
Meanwhile, skirmishes continued to break out around the rest of the country. Opposition forces said they had taken the coastal oil town of Ras Lanuf, east of Tripoil. An opposition website reported that residents were raising the pre-Gadhafi Libyan flag favored by protesters. Ras Lanuf is strategically important, opposition forces say, because it is near Sirte, Gadhafi’s hometown and an important coastal city near Tripoli.
The Libyan Youth Movement wrote on its Twitter feed that forces from Ras Lanuf were closing in on Sirte, and that there were “reports of a split within the [Sirte] military base.”
Iyad El-Baghdadi, a Dubai-based blogger who has been providing updates from sources within the country, wrote taking that taking Sirte would be a considerable boost to the opposition movement. “If [Sirte] would join the revolution, it would be a game changer, allowing free movement from the east to the west,” he said.
In Zawiya, the site of intense fighting earlier, bloggers said the Gadhafi regime had cut off electricity, part of the regime’s effort to retake the city by the end of the night. Opposition fighters said earlier that they had repelled the government attacks, but feared renewed assaults overnight. “Gaddafi’s regime have switched off the electricity supply for the city of Az Zawiya which witnessed violent clashes today and the residents fear that a massacre may happen tonight,” opposition bloggers wrote.
Amnesty International: Gadhafi forces targeted medics
Amnesty International has just posted a statement on its website reporting that two Libyan Red Crescent workers were intentionally targeted by pro-Gadhafi forces in Misurata, an opposition-controlled city in northwest Libya.
According to the statement, the Libyan medics were attempting to retrieve a body near the town when they were injured by sustained shooting from a nearby military installation, which lasted for about three minutes:
“This was a deliberate attack on medical professionals, who were wearing full medical uniform and arrived in two clearly marked Red Crescent ambulances,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director.
“This disturbing assault indicates that pro-Gaddafi forces are prepared to use lethal force indiscriminately even against those whose role it is to care for the wounded and pick up the dead.”
One of the ambulance workers was struck in the forearm by bullet splinters and another was struck in the chin, apparently by splinters from the academy’s fence or possibly a bullet fragment. Neither was seriously injured.
Human rights groups have accused the Gadhafi regime of blocking access to opposition-held territories in the west in order to impede the delivery of medical and humanitarian aid. Medicins Sans Frontieres said this week that doctors in Misurata had requested drugs and other urgent medical care after heavy fighting there, but that emergency teams were unable to access the city because Gadhafi forces were blocking the roads.
“The doctor is asking us for drugs and medical supplies to treat wounded people,” said Anne Chatelain, MSF medical coordinator in Benghazi. “But we cannot deliver the supplies. The road to Misurata has been blocked by armed men who are stopping traffic.”
The Red Cross issued a statement Thursday calling on “all those taking part in the violence to comply with their obligation to respect and protect in all circumstances medical personnel, medical facilities and any vehicle used as an ambulance.”
The violence has not, however, deterred protesters from taking to the streets in Misurata, which remains under the control of opposition forces. Video uploaded to an opposition YouTube channel Friday shows mass demonstrations in the city, even as the Gadhafi regime has executed a brutal crackdown on protesters elsewhere in the country.
Interpol issues ‘orange notice’ for Gadhafi and sons
Interpol has issued a security alert, known as an “orange notice,” for Libyan autocrat Moammar Gadhafi, his sons and associates, in an effort to “warn member states of the danger posed by the movement of these individuals and their assets.”
The orange notice is not an arrest warrant — it is intended only to help the U.N. enforce its freeze on assets and travel by Gadhafi and members of his regime. The notice will also help the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, carry out his investigation into the Gadhafi government for possible crimes against humanity.
The alert lists 15 individuals who “have been identified as being involved in or complicit in planning attacks, including aerial bombardments, on civilian populations,” and urges Interpol’s 188 member states to cooperate with the U.N. assets and travel bans. In addition to Gadhafi’s children, the list also includes Gadhafi’s head of personal security, chief of the external security forces and defense minister, among others.
“As a first priority, we must work to protect the civilian populations of Libya and of any country into which these Libyan individuals may travel or attempt to move their assets,” Interpol Secretary General Robert Noble said in a statement. “Our co-operation with the U.N. Security Council on sanctions against individuals is strong and will get stronger.”
Witnesses report a ‘massacre’ in northwest Libya
[Update: Additional information provided by Libyan opposition bloggers suggests that the video posted earlier showed fighting in Zawiya during a battle there several days ago, rather than today. The audio above describes today's attacks.]
As Moammar Gadhafi’s regime continued its brutal repression of protests in the capital of Tripoli Friday, fighting between government forces and opposition fighters broke out elsewhere around the country, including in Zawiya, a strategic coastal city in northwest Libya.
Reports from opposition bloggers alleged that pro-Gadhafi forces had opened fire on peaceful protests there. Estimates of the number of dead ranged from eight to 30.
A blogger affiliated with the Libyan Youth Movement wrote that the “city is currently under siege from both entry points,” and that “the military opened fire on an unarmed protest.” An opposition website reported that the “first attack on Zawiya resulted in 8 deaths,” while Reuters reported on its breaking news feed that at least 30 civilians had been killed.
A government spokesman also told Reuters that the Gadhafi regime hopes to recapture Zawiya, which has been under the control of opposition forces since early in the uprising, “possibly tonight.” According to a Libyan opposition website, state television has already begun reporting that Zawiya is “back in the hands of Gadhafi.”
Opposition forces, however, disputed that claim. Bloggers who run the @feb17voices Twitter feed wrote Friday that a caller from Zawiya had reaffirmed that “revolutionaries control” the city. They posted audio of an eyewitness describing a bloody attack on peaceful protesters who were praying when the fighting broke out.
“A big massacre has occurred,” the caller said, according to an English translation. “They attacked the eastern and western outskirts of Az Zawiya. A group has died. Two of them were just buried around noontime after Friday prayers.”
Protesters defy crackdown in Tripoli
Demonstrators defied a government crackdown Friday in Tripoli, where bloggers and eyewitnesses reported they were met with tear gas and possibly live ammunition.
Protesters were carrying out plans to demonstrate after Friday prayers, and Libyan opposition bloggers said they were met with gunfire by pro-Gadhafi forces. “Tear gas being thrown as well as gun shots heard at various districts in Tripoli,” one opposition blogger wrote.
Protesters were also apparently blocked from accessing the demonstrations by Libyan security forces. A caller from Tripoli told the bloggers behind the @feb17voices Twitter feed: “My neighborhood has been prevented from accessing downtown mosques for prayer by a roadblock.”
The Associated Press reports that the protests were quickly broken up:
More than 1,500 protesters marched out of the Murad Agha mosque after noon prayers in the eastern Tripoli district of Tajoura, chanting “the people want to bring the regime down” and waved the red, black and green flag of Libya’s pre-Gadhafi monarchy, adopted as the banner up the uprising.
But pro-Gadhafi forces quickly moved in. They fired volleys of tear gas and – when the marchers continued – opened fire with live ammunition, according to witnesses.
Gathering information from the capital has been difficult. Telecommunications seem to be blocked, including access to the Internet. Even opposition bloggers in other parts of the country say they have had trouble getting updates on the protests in Tripoli. “We are struggling for updates in Tripoli will try to report as soon as we receive anything,” the Libyan Youth Movement wrote on its Twitter feed.
Another Libyan opposition blogger wrote Friday morning: “No telecommunications inside Tripoli, and internet has been cut off since last night.”
We’ll bring you more information as it becomes available.
Thursday, March 3
What happens to Gadhafi?
Moammar Gadhafi may control Tripoli for now, but his options are rapidly dwindling.
Opposition forces in the east report that they have registered thousands of new recruits to help topple Gadhafi’s regime. A blogger affiliated with the Libyan Youth Movement wrote on Wednesday: “In Benghazi there are many troops being trained now, in preparation to help Tripoli.”
The International Criminal Court has also opened an investigation into Gadhafi and his sons for possible crimes against humanity. Depending on the evidence ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is able to collect, that investigation may result in an arrest warrant.
Gadhafi’s only recourse, it seems, is to intensify the intimidation tactics his regime has relied on to repress the opposition movement. Bloggers have reported a new wave of arrests, and a group of clerics sent a statement to Al Jazeera Thursday claiming the Gadhafi regime had implemented “a massive kidnapping campaign in Tripoli and its vicinities in order to ‘clean up’ key youth leaders before tomorrow’s Friday prayers.”
John Scott-Railston, a UCLA graduate student who runs the @feb17voices Twitter feed and has been helping journalists contact residents in Libya, wrote in an email to Need to Know that “no one in Tripoli [is] comfortable being recorded even by us,” and that there was a “palpable fear amidst reports of targeted arrests.”
Still, Gadhafi is essentially “boxed in,” as Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment told the Associated Press. “At best, he could hope to be given asylum in Zimbabwe or perhaps Chad.”
If so, the question becomes whether Gadhafi will escape accountability for his regime’s brutal response to the protests in Libya. As Human Rights Watch noted in a Q&A on its website, only five of the 14 individuals sought by the ICC have been apprehended. “Securing arrests is one of the most difficult challenges faced by the ICC,” the organization said.
If Gadhafi does flee to a friendly African nation like Zimbabwe or Chad, however, it’s possible that those leaders could be persuaded to hand him over. There is precedent for such a move: As Roger Clark, a professor of international law at Rutgers University who was involved in the negotiations to create the ICC, noted in an interview, Liberian President Charles Taylor was turned over to the ICC in 2006 after initially seeking refuge in Nigera.
As Clark put it, Gadhafi “may go and get double-crossed.”
Obama orders military airlifts to aid Libyan refugees
The White House blog has just posted a transcript of President Obama’s remarks today after a meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, at which he announced that he was ordering U.S. military aircraft to help ferry Libyan refugees back to their home countries in the region:
Tens of thousands of people — from many different countries — are fleeing Libya, and we commend the governments of Tunisia and Egypt for their response, even as they go through their own political transitions. I have therefore approved the use of U.S. military aircraft to help move Egyptians who have fled to the Tunisian border to get back home to Egypt. I’ve authorized USAID to charter additional civilian aircraft to help people from other countries find their way home. And we’re supporting the efforts of international organizations to evacuate people as well.
Obama also announced that he had directed the Agency for International Development to send humanitarian assistance teams to the Libyan border, to support non-governmental organizations there and “address the urgent needs of the Libyan people.”
As we reported yesterday, any use of U.S. military aircraft in the region will likely be viewed with skepticism by Libyan protesters, who have expressed opposition to any form of foreign intervention in the country’s uprising, even to support the anti-Gadhafi forces.
The president’s announcement comes as international agencies struggle to get a grip on what officials have described as a burgeoning refugee crisis along Libya’s borders with Egypt and Tunisia. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held a conference call with aid organizations this morning in which he called on the Libyan government to allow “unimpeded access” into all parts of the country, including the government-controlled west, Ban spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
The U.N. World Food Program, meanwhile, said it was launching a program to provide food aid to 2.7 million people in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, part of a three-month emergency effort aimed at propping up the food safety net in the region. The U.N. said Thursday that there were more than 100,000 refugees along the Libyan-Tunisian border alone.
“I was surrounded by tens of thousands of people fleeing violence,” Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program, said after visiting the Libyan-Tunisian border Thursday. “It is clear the world must increase humanitarian action to prevent a disaster inside Libya.”
Arrests, surveillance spark fear in Tripoli ahead of protests
As we reported yesterday, a new round of arrests has sparked fear in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, as Moammar Gadhafi’s regime attempts to stifle the opposition movement there and preempt protests that had been planned for Friday.
Contacting residents within the country has also become increasingly difficult. The Daily Need tried seven numbers of residents in Tripoli and Benghazi, none of which worked. The bloggers who run the @feb17voices Twitter feed, who have been posting firsthand accounts and audio from phone calls with Libyan residents, also reported Wednesday that it had become “difficult to get through to people on the ground,” and that many residents in Tripoli were hesitant to leave their homes or speak after “reports of the regime arresting individuals who talk with foreign media.”
Surveillance in the capital also seemed to intensify, in an effort to intimidate residents from participating in protests. Several Libyan bloggers posted photographs on Thursday that were said to show Libyan government helicopters flying overhead. One aircraft was identified by a Libyan expat as one of the “Italian ‘Polizia’ helicopters I always see in Tripoli.”
That same blogger reported that there had been a “big wave of arrests” in Tripoli on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of protests planned for Friday after daily prayers. “Big [demonstrations expected] after tomorrow’s Friday prayers in Tripoli. we want [international] media to record,” the blogger wrote.
Another Libyan blogger compared the planned demonstrations to similar mass protests that brought down leaders in Tunisia and Egypt: “Ben Ali left on a Friday, Mubarak left on a Friday, will Gadhafi leave this Friday?”
Libya presents ‘new era’ for International Criminal Court
The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court announced Thursday that his office was opening an investigation into the government of Mommar Gadhafi, for alleged crimes against humanity committed during the regime’s bloody crackdown on protesters in Libya.
“The allegations are peaceful demonstrators were attacked by security forces,” the prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said at a press conference on Thursday. “In the coming weeks, the office will investigate who are the most responsible for the most serious incidents, for the most serious crimes committed in Libya.”
The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously over the weekend to refer the case to the International Criminal Court, a step that was necessary because Libya is not a party to the Rome Statute governing the ICC. It was only the second time in history the Security Council referred a case to the ICC, after Sudan in 2005, and the first time the vote was unanimous.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Moreno-Ocampo said the Gadhafi probe was a sign that the ICC had entered “a new era,” in which “the world is reacting faster.” The ICC has struggled for years to win legitimacy in the eyes of the international community, especially among major powers like the U.S., Russia and China, which have failed to ratify the Rome Statute.
“I think we are witnessing a new situation where the world is united,” Moreno-Ocampo said. “No one can attack civilians. That is the new threshold. No one has authority to attack and massacre civilians.”
Moreno-Ocampo said his office had been collecting evidence against the Gadhafi regime since Sunday, in order to decide whether to open a formal probe. He told reporters that investigators had already mapped out a number of the most serious incidents, including the initial crackdown on protesters in Benghazi and other eastern cities on Feb. 15, and a bloody confrontation in Tripoli on Feb. 20.
Moreno-Ocampo also said his office had identified several of the individuals responsible for those attacks.
“We have identified some individuals with de facto or formal authority, who had authority over the security forces who allegedly committed the crimes,” Moreno-Ocampo said. “They are Moammar Gadhafi, his inner circle, including some of his sons, who had the de facto authority.”
Moreno-Ocampo also warned Libyan officials, including the heads of Gadhafi’s personal security service and external security forces, that they could be held prosecuted as well.
“We’d like to use this opportunity to put them on notice,” Moreno-Ocampo said. “If forces under their command and control commit crimes, they could be held criminally responsible.”
Gadhafi forces capture three Dutch soldiers
Pro-Gadhafi forces in the Libyan autocrat’s hometown of Sirte have captured three crew members of a Dutch naval helicopter who were carrying out a rescue mission over the weekend, Radio Netherlands reports. The soldiers were trying to rescue one Dutch citizen and one citizen of an unspecified European country when their aircraft was seized by an armed group loyal to the Libyan government.
The incident marks the first report of foreigners — let alone foreign military personnel — being held by Gadhafi’s regime. A spokesman for the Dutch defense ministry told Radio Netherlands that the government was involved in “intensive diplomatic negotiations” to secure the release of the soldiers, and that the ministry had been in contact with the soldiers themselves.
The capture of the soldiers occurred on Sunday but was kept secret by the Dutch government until a Dutch newspaper reported the incident on Thursday.
“Our absolute top priority is that these three soldiers reach safety,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said. They were deployed at high personal risk. The least we can do is to do everything to ensure that if people get in trouble that they are brought to safety again.”
Sirte is a coastal city east of Tripoli, the birthplace of Moammar Gadhafi and a stronghold for pro-government forces. A military historian told Radio Netherlands that he was surprised the Dutch crew had attempted the rescue mission there, given that it was still under the control of pro-Gadhafi forces.
Wednesday, March 2
Video of government troops joining protesters in Benghazi
[Update: Additional information posted on a website affiliated with the Libyan Youth Movement suggests this footage was taken in Benghazi, not Tripoli, during a firefight there on Feb. 21.]
The Libyan Youth Movement has uploaded raw video of a skirmish in Benghazi shortly after the uprising began in which government troops appear to join the opposition protesters and defend them from the “pro-Gadhafi militia.”
The army troops are seen guarding civilian demonstrators near the headquarters of the Brega Company, a nationally-owned oil company in Libya, and exchanging gunfire with forces still loyal to the government. “Soldiers who joined the people’s revolution can be seen helping out,” the Libyan Youth Movement wrote on its website.
The video seems to contradict the claims of the Gadhafi regime, which has repeatedly dismissed reports of defections by government soldiers. Moammar Gadhafi’s son, Saif Gadhafi, told troops in a speech during the regime’s bloody crackdown last week: “The people have said the police have joined the protesters, but today we will prove the opposite.”
Accounts of ‘the battle for Brega’
Raw video uploaded to an opposition Facebook page appears to show anti-Gadhafi forces exchanging artillery fire with government troops in Brega, a town in eastern Libya and the site of intense clashes over the past day. In addition to gunfire, Libyan war planes can also be heard flying overhead.
An English translation provided by another opposition website quotes one of the first men interviewed in the video as saying that the anti-Gadhafi fighters were attacked at about 6:30 a.m. by government troops and mercenaries, who “started firing straight away! As soon as they came in they started firing.” A second man says the Gadhafi forces were “firing at people protecting the oil facilities.”
According to the account of a blogger affiliated with the Libyan Youth Movement, government troops surprised the opposition forces in Brega, a strategic oil town on the Mediterranean coast, in an early morning raid with about 75 land cruisers supported by fighter jets. “They briefly took over, as this was unexpected,” the blogger wrote, adding that the siege lasted about two hours.
Anti-Gadhafi fighters from other opposition-controlled cities then mounted a counterattack, managing to repel some government troops and capture others. There were also rumors spreading that the Libyan fighter jets may have bombed their own ground forces, either by accident or because they had joined the opposition. Anti-Gadhafi forces have since reclaimed the town.
“There are now no Gadhafi people in Brega and it is in the hands of the people once more, but people died,” the Libyan Youth Movement blogger added.
Libyan bloggers also posted video of an interview with a captured government soldier Wednesday, who said his commanding officers had told him “we were going to do some military cleaning,” according to an English translation provided by the bloggers.
‘Libyan people can manage it alone’
Libyan bloggers and protesters are mounting a campaign to oppose any intervention in the country by the U.S. military or other foreign powers. The Libyan Youth Movement has started a Facebook page declaring “We don’t want foreign intervention,” and protesters in opposition-controlled Benghazi have hoisted banners saying “Libyan people can manage it alone.”
Rumors have spread rapidly among Arab bloggers on Twitter about the possibility of a U.S. military campaign to topple Gadhafi, after American warships approached the shore of Libya through the Suez Canal earlier this week. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the ships were only repositioned to help provide humanitarian assistance if necessary, but the moves have nonetheless prompted fears among Libyans that a U.S. invasion is imminent.
Those fears were not eased when Sen. Joseph Lieberman called for the U.S. government to begin arming opposition forces in liberated cities in eastern Libya, and Sen. John McCain called for the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned in congressional testimony that imposing a no-fly zone would require an aerial attack on Libya’s air defense forces.
The Real News, an independent video news network, posted a report from Benghazi Wednesday in which Libyans expressed their opposition to any foreign military intervention. One man is quoted as saying that he would like the U.S. and others to “put pressure on Gadhafi’s regime to fall” without engaging in armed conflict:
Neither a European nor an American military should intervene in the country, but we want them to put pressure on Gadhafi’s regime to fall. The free Libyan youth will, God willing, oust this criminal dictator from Libya. We only want them to stand strong with us, and prevent Gadhafi from bringing mercenaries from other African countries.
In congressional testimony Wednesday, Clinton said “there may well be a role for military assets to get equipment and supplies into areas that have a need for them” in Libya, but cautioned that the issue of foreign intervention was controversial. The Arab League issued a statement opposing “any foreign interference within Libya,” according to CNN.
Arrests feared as protesters plan demonstrations in Tripoli
Libyan bloggers are reporting a new round of arrests and door-to-door security sweeps by Gadhafi’s forces in Tripoli, as protesters say they are planning a new day of demonstrations on Friday.
Libyans in opposition-controlled Benghazi took to the streets Wednesday during Gadhafi’s address from Tripoli, burning copies of the Libyan autocrat’s “green book” — which was published in 1975 and lays out his philosophy for governing — and holding up signs that said “Breaking News: Gadhafi is Lying.” Bloggers affiliated with the protests wrote that the demonstrations were planned “to show our support for the people of Tripoli.”
However, in Tripoli, bloggers said security forces were going door to door, searching for protesters and asking “Where is that easterner?” a reference to the opposition-controlled eastern cities. A Benghazi-based blogger with the Libyan Youth Movement said Gadhafi’s forces in Tripoli were arresting anyone they thought might be affiliated with the opposition. “Anyone in Tripoli originally from east is being arrested,” the blogger wrote.
The bloggers behind the Twitter feed @feb17voices have also posted a firsthand account from a eyewitness in Tripoli describing mass arrests by Gadhafi forces of residents seen participating in demonstrations or even injured in hospitals from confrontations with government troops. “Large number of arrests of activists and anyone seen in any demonstrations,” he wrote. “Gadhafi forces looking for [and] arresting anyone injured in demonstrations, getting lists of injured from hospitals.”
Bloggers in Tripoli also said they were anticipating yet another round of arrests on Thursday in order to preempt mass demonstrations planned for Friday in the capital. “I think Thursday will be full of arrests [to] reduce the number of protests planned in Friday,” one blogger wrote. “If [you] didn’t hear from me tomorrow then [you] know.”
What to call the anti-Gadhafi forces
Our colleagues at the NewsHour aired an interview Tuesday with a resident of Zawiya, a city in eastern Libya now under the control of opposition forces. The man told NewsHour correspondent Margaret Warner that “the boys are in control of all the city,” prompting Warner to ask for clarification: “By the boys, do you mean the rebels?”
The man responded, “We are not rebels. We don’t want to be called rebels. We are revolutionary forces. We are the dignity revolution.”
The remark echoed a concern among opposition forces and anti-Gadhafi activists, and points up a challenge for journalists struggling to describe the situation in Libya as accurately and dispassionately as possible. Those who oppose the Libyan autocrat object to the term “rebels,” preferring instead to call themselves “freedom fighters” advocating for democracy and human rights.
The term “rebel,” they say, implies an armed insurgency or an effort to destabilize the government, rather than a popular uprising sparked by civilian demonstrators.
“Stop calling Libyan protesters rebels! We are protesters calling for our freedom that is all. We are not rebels,” organizers of the Libyan Youth Movement wrote on their Twitter feed Tuesday, in a post that was retweeted by over 100 other users. They added: “Freedom is a universal human right. How is calling out for it rebellious?”
Activists say they prefer the terms “revolutionaries,” “pro-democracy” forces or simply “the Libyan people.” Those terms, however, don’t necessarily describe the armed militias fighting off Gadhafi’s forces, which may be why media organizations — including Al Jazeera, The New York Times and others — have used the term “rebels” when describing battles between government troops and opposition fighters.
The disagreement may simply be an empirical matter: With so few journalists on the ground, it’s hard to know exactly how many of the people fighting off Gadhafi’s troops are unarmed citizens and how many are anti-government militias. Those who sympathize with the opposition movement say it’s the former.
“Please stop branding [people] in Libya as rebels. They’re ordinary [people] fighting for their freedom,” one Twitter user wrote from Tehran Wednesday. “We need to stand with them not against them.”
Gadhafi says he ‘has no position or post to surrender’
Libyan autocrat Moammar Gadhafi returned to state television on Wednesday to attempt once again to convince his people that there is no uprising against him, and that the unrest was a product only of foreign meddling and an Islamist plot.
According to an English translation of the speech provided by ITN, Gadhafi said that he “has no position or post to surrender to the Libyan people. Therefore at this point, their history, their well-being, their prosperity are all being targeted.”
Gadhafi made his remarks to supporters in a large ballroom in Tripoli. He insisted that he was simply a symbol of the Libyan people’s self-rule, and that the attempt to topple him was “a challenge to Moammar Gadhafi. He has no authority. He’s no president. He has no parliament, no constitution.”
Gadhafi also pledged to “fight to the end, to the last man, the last woman,” according to Al Jazeera. The remarks came as his forces renewed their attacks on opposition-held territories in the east and northwest of Libya. Eyewitnesses have described repeated attempts by government troops to retake cities like Zintan, northwest of Tripoli, and Benghazi, the country’s largest city and epicenter of the uprising.
Tuesday, March 1
Audio: Skirmishes with Gadhafi forces in northwest Libya
John Scott-Railston, a UCLA graduate student who has been aggregating firsthand accounts of the violence in Libya on the Twitter feed @feb17voices, just emailed to say that he has posted audio of a phone call with an eyewitness in the northwestern city of Zintan “describing ongoing attacks, skirmishes with Gadhafi troops.” The witness also discusses the humanitarian situation in the city and the capture of many pro-Gadhafi mercenaries by opposition forces.
According to an English translation, members of the opposition — described as “the youth” by the caller — have mounted several successful attacks against army barracks and checkpoints on the outskirts of the city. “The youth of Zintan launched a number of preventative attacks on the army barracks surrounding the city, to keep the army from attacking,” the caller says, adding that the opposition has repelled the Gadhafi forces and won control of “some weapons and vehicles.”
Gadhafi forces have responded with repeated barrages and attempts to enter the city over the past three days, the caller added. “Gadhafi’s battalions keep attacking, but each time the residents capture soldiers and weapons,” the caller said. “During the last three days, the army has attacked the city three times, all of which have been repelled by the residents.”
The opposition has also apparently captured more than 40 pro-Gadhafi mercenaries from Mali trying to enter the city, and has “established a military council to manage the affairs of Zintan.” Still, though, many of the youth affiliated with the opposition movement remain unaccounted for, and some have disappeared while trying to exit the city.
“At the checkpoints, whoever from the youth tries to leave ends up disappearing,” the caller says. “And who knows where they take them.”
Working around Libya’s communications blackout
Journalists and outside observers have only recently been able to gain entry to Libya, and even now, the Libyan government has done everything possible to close off communication with the outside world. Contacting residents within Libya can be tricky, and accessing the Internet from within the country is incredibly difficult as well.
Many journalists — including this one — have been relying on Twitter and other forms of social media for updates from the ground in Libya. John Scott-Railton, a graduate student at UCLA, has been helping to aggregate those updates and provide firsthand accounts of the uprising from Libyans themselves. He’s done so by combining his formidable rolodex, a considerable amount of tech-savvy and an unwillingness to yield to Libya’s telecommunications blackout.
Scott-Railston began by providing updates on the protests in Egypt, by contacting friends and colleagues in the country and posting firsthand accounts of the uprising there on his Twitter feed, @Jan25voices. He is now reprising the role for Libya, posting updates from contacts within the country to a new Twitter account, @feb17voices, as well as audio clips of telephone calls with eyewitnesses from cities like Benghazi and Zawiya.
“What the Libyan government has done is try to shut down communications, but for a number of reasons they haven’t been able to fully pull it off,” Scott-Railton said in a telephone interview with Need to Know on Tuesday. “Through massive amounts of trial and error, we found that some of the numbers you can get through to some of the time.”
Scott-Railston has been aided in his endeavor by Sarah Abdurrahman, a Libyan-American journalist and producer for NPR’s “On The Media.” Discussing her involvement in the @feb17voices Twitter feed on “On The Media” last week, Abdurrahman said the goal was to vet and aggregate credible firsthand accounts of the uprising in Libya and disseminate them to the public as openly as possible.
“Libya is one of the most closed-off societies, and one of the most difficult places to get information in and out of,” Abdurrahman said. “And if I have people that I can get in touch with there and get information out to put a spotlight on it then I mean, it’s a duty.”
Abdurrahman, along with Scott-Railston, has been posting accounts of the Gadhafi regime’s bloody crackdown, as well as the opposition movement’s activities, through recorded phone calls with eyewitnesses on the ground. That has been an especially valuable resource given the Libyan government’s attempts to repress the uprising by censoring civilians and disrupting communications among opposition activists.
“It’s almost exactly what happened with Egypt,” Scott-Railston said. “There was almost a complete blackout, but it was never perfect. And so part of what I do is sort of exploit the imperfection of it, and try to keep a very fluid list of people so that I can always work around it.”
Libya suspended from U.N. Human Rights Council
The U.N. General Assembly voted unanimously on Tuesday to suspend Libya from the Human Rights Council, citing “gross and systematic” human rights violations during Moammar Gadhafi’s bloody two-week crackdown on civilian demonstrators and opposition members.
The move was requested by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council last Friday, and the resolution was approved by all 192 members of the General Assembly. The vote is the latest in a series of actions taken by the U.N. against Gadhafi’s regime. The U.N. Security Council has already imposed an arms embargo and economic sanctions on Libya, and referred Gadhafi to the International Criminal Court.
“The credibility of the international community, the United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council is at stake in ensuring that these rights are respected and that human rights violations are punished,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in remarks before the vote.
Ban cited “the ongoing repression of the population and the clear incitement to violence against the civilian population” by Gadhafi’s regime, and told the General Assembly that “credible and consistent reports include allegations of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture.”
This is the first time that a member of the Human Rights Council has been removed by a vote of the General Assembly. In a statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the vote “historic.”
“The international community is speaking with one voice and our message is unmistakable: these violations of universal rights are unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Clinton said. “The United States will continue to work with the international community on additional steps to hold the Gadhafi government accountable, provide humanitarian assistance to those in need, and support the Libyan people as they pursue a transition to democracy.”
A guide to Libya’s ‘freedom cries’ — threatened with deletion
Libya’s uprising has in many ways mirrored those of its Arab neighbors. One notable difference, though, is the relative lack of organization among the country’s opposition. A loose network of anti-Gadhafi militias has been fighting the autocrat’s bloody crackdown and repelling government forces from key cities in the east and northwest. But unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, there are no political parties in Libya to organize a coherent anti-Gadhafi response.
One practical effect of that decentralization has been the variety of chants and slogans used by anti-Gadhafi protesters in Libya and elsewhere. At a protest outside the Libyan mission to the U.N., for example, the slogan of choice was “Free, Free Libya,” while in Tajoura, “Patience, patience, O Gadhafi, you’ll dig your grave in Tajoura!” was popular.
In an attempt at organizing and chronicling the activity of opposition activists across the world, Libyans have been compiling the many chants and slogans used in their country’s uprising on Wikipedia. The page includes English chants, as well as translations and transliterations of popular Arabic-language slogans. The website of the Libyan Youth Movement said the chants were compiled “for the world to use at protests in solidarity with Libya.”
Now, however, the page is being targeted for deletion by some of Wikipedia’s editors, because it may not comply with the online dictionary’s guidelines. “Of course I am rooting for the protesters, but this is just a collection of quotes,” one editor wrote in the debate over whether to delete the article. “Even if every one was sourced it would not be a suitable premise for an encyclopedia article. Otherwise we could have lists of everything anyone was quoted as saying.”
The creator of the article defended the page by arguing that the uprising was a notable historical event, and that the chants used by opposition activists were an important feature of Libya’s revolt.
“These freedom cries are echoing around the world. It is valuable to document the voices of the people during this turning point in history, and an encyclopedia seems like a very reasonable place to do so,” the creator wrote. “People are looking for this information, and many have found this page to valuable already.”
Audio: Gadhafi’s forces surround city in northwest Libya
Libyan-American activists who have been providing updates from within the country via their Twitter feed, @feb17voices, have posted audio of a phone call with an unidentified member of the opposition in the northwestern city of Zawiya, which is now under the control of anti-Gadhafi forces. According to the audio, Gadhafi’s men remain close by, and there remains a fear that they will mount yet another offensive in an attempt to retake the city.
Zawiya was the target of attacks by Gadhafi’s forces on Monday, though that effort seems to have failed, as Zawiya remains under the control of the opposition movement. According to an English translation of the audio posted by the anti-Gadhafi activists, the opposition in Zawiya was able to repel Gadhafi’s forces, who have since retreated but remain just 3-4 miles from the city center. “Today is normal, nothing has happened,” the man says.
International officials have expressed fear that Zawiya could suffer from crippling food shortages, given that it is surrounded by Gadhafi’s forces, who have refused to allow shipments of food or humanitarian aid into the city. The Miami Herald quoted an anonymous resident of Zawiya on Tuesday as saying, “They’re trying to starve us to death.”
Protesters and opposition forces have been resisting Gadhafi’s bloody crackdown in Zawiya for more than a week, and have managed so far to maintain their tenuous control of the city. According to the eyewitness account provided by the opposition activists, anti-Gadhafi forces are currently “in a state of waiting.”
“If anything happens, they will block them if there is an offensive,” the opposition member says in the audio posted by the Libyan activists. “God willing, there will only be good ahead of us.”
Over 100 killed in Benghazi alone
The Canadian chapter of Medecins Sans Frontieres, which has deployed emergency medical personnel to parts of eastern Libya, has posted on its website an audio interview with Simon Burroughs, a member of the MSF emergency medical team in the eastern city of Benghazi. Benghazi, epicenter of the uprising and site of the some of the heaviest fighting, is now under the control of Libyan opposition forces.
Burroughs estimated — based on conversations with doctors and nurses in Benghazi’s hospitals — that over 100 people had been killed in the fighting there, and that another 1,000 had been injured. “This was obviously quite a shock to their systems,” Burroughs said in the interview on the MSF website.
Burroughs’ team arrived on Feb. 25 through the Egyptian border, and have been assessing hospital conditions in Benghazi and other cities east of Tripoli. While the hospitals there had generally been well-staffed and well-supplied before the fighting, Burroughs said, “They’d never had to deal with this kind of situation in Benghazi ever before. So initially they were overwhelmed.”
After opposition fighters repelled Gadhafi’s forces and took control of the city, medical professionals there “managed to deal with this initial influx and were coming back to a state of normality,” Burroughs added.
What to do about the mercenaries
Experts and human rights activists in Libya have offered conflicting accounts of the role African mercenaries have played in Moammar Gadhafi’s crackdown on civilians and opposition forces there. Libyans have posted videos online of pro-Gadhafi forces who they say are mercenaries from Western African nations such as Mali, Niger and Chad shooting at civilians. The Telegraph reported Tuesday that groups of mercenaries in eastern Libya had been captured by opposition forces and were awaiting their fate.
Gadhafi has long maintained financial and political ties with militias and rebel groups in nearby African nations, part of an effort to expand his influence in the region. But the extent to which mercenaries have played a role in Libya’s violence is unclear. Na’eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg, told Voice of America that the number of African mercenaries used in the Libyan crackdown may have numbered only in the hundreds.
Equally uncertain, experts say, is whether any of the mercenaries or their home nations can be held responsible for their roles in Gadhafi’s crackdown. A controversial provision contained in the U.N. Security Council resolution referring Gadhafi to the International Criminal Court over the weekend exempted officials of foreign nations that have not ratified the Rome Statute from prosecution.
The clause states that “nationals, current or former officials or personnel from a state outside” Libya that has not ratified the Rome Statute “shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of that State.” The provision was insisted upon by American officials, but critics say it may also include the African nations from which most of the mercenaries originate.
The Telegraph reported that the clause would allow Gadhafi’s mercenaries to “escape prosecution even if they were captured.” However, other experts have since pointed out that the resolution referred specifically to “operations in [Libya] established or authorized by” the Security Council. That would seem to exclude mercenaries firing on civilians in Libya.
Roger Clark, a professor of international law at Rutgers University who spoke with Need to Know, said the U.N. could hold the mercenaries and any militias or African governments involved in the atrocities accountable. If they were captured, he said, the Security Council could decide to refer them to the ICC, as the Council did with Gadhafi.
“They conceivably could go after the mercenaries,” Clark said. “You might be able to round up some of these characters as committing crimes against humanity.”
Malta refuses to return Libyan fighter jets
The government of Malta has refused to return two Libyan fighter jets left on the island last week after their pilots defected, according to The Associated Press. A Libyan plane carrying additional pilots intent on reclaiming the Mirage jets was denied access to a Maltese airport, and Malta said it was now abiding by the U.N. arms embargo against Libya.
The jets landed in Malta on Feb. 21 after their pilots refused orders to bomb civilian demonstrators amid Libyan autocrat Moammar Gadhafi’s bloody crackdown on the uprising there. The pilots have asked for political asylum in the tiny island nation north of Africa, but so far the Maltese government has been mum on their fate. The Malta Independent reported this week that the government would not acknowledge whether it had even interviewed the pilots as part of their application for asylum.
An organization of Libyan activists called Enough! Gaddafi is circulating an online petition urging Maltese President George Abela to state his position on the pilots’ request for asylum. As of Tuesday afternoon the petition had garnered nearly 4,000 signatures.
“If the pilots are sent back to Libya, they will likely be executed,” the petition says. “Also, without hope of asylum many Libyan military personnel may be discouraged from refusing orders to kill civilians.”
“Tripoli needs food”
International officials are expressing concern over the possibility of widespread food shortages within Libya, as opposition forces and the Libyan military fight for control of the country. The U.N. World Food Program said on Tuesday that it was shipping food aid to the Tunisian border, where tens of thousands of Libyan refugees and migrant workers have fled.
But Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the WFP, told the Guardian Tuesday that she was concerned about a “breakdown of the food supply” in eastern cities such as Zawiya, which is under the control of opposition fighters but surrounded by the Gadhafi regime’s forces. More than 90 percent of Libya’s food supply comes from imports to port cities like Benghazi, which has been seized by opposition groups.
The food shortage, however, may not be contained to eastern cities like Zawiya, which is now under the control of the opposition. Ali Tweel, a Libyan computer programmer who has been posting updates from inside the capital Tripoli to his Twitter feed, uploaded photos Tuesday of barren shelves in supermarkets ransacked by desperate customers. “The roads [are] full, people [are] after only food stores,” Tweel wrote.
The Libyan Youth Movement posted the photos along with a plea for donations to its website Tuesday. “Tripoli needs FOOD,” the activists wrote. “As the regime tries to kill its people with bullets, bombs, and heavy weaponry, they are also cutting off food shipments in an effort to starve the people as well.”
The humanitarian situation in Tripoli, Tweel added, is dire. “I’m jobless, my company didn’t renew my contract. my country is in chaos. my city is like in another planet, all my hopes [are] now with others,” he wrote in one tweet, adding in another: “I feel like I will be captured in any moment and lose everything.”
Human Rights Watch in Libya
When a death toll for the uprising in Libya is quoted in the media, it’s often either followed or preceded by the words, “according to Human Rights Watch.” Need to Know intern Joanna Nikas spoke to Human Right Watch’s special crisis officer Fred Abrahams to find out more about how the organization gets its information and what it does with it. Read the full interview here.
UN won’t pay for Gadhafi war crimes probe
Human rights activists have praised the United Nations Security Council for its decision to refer Libyan autocrat Moammar Gadhafi to the International Criminal Court for “allegations of widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population” of his country, as the ICC put it.
Buried within the text of the resolution, however, was a caveat of sorts: Neither the U.N. nor any of the major powers who have failed to ratify the Rome Statute governing the ICC will pay for the investigation, or for any arrest or prosecution that might follow. That provision has alarmed some experts on international law, who say the clause is a sign of “lingering reluctances” about the war crimes tribunal on the part of countries like the United States and China.
Need to Know spoke with Roger Clark, a professor of international criminal law at Rutgers University who was involved in the negotiations to create the ICC. Clark said the most likely outcome was that the court’s strongest supporters, such as Germany and Japan, would end up paying for the investigation, because “they’re the biggest believers.”
For more on the U.N. resolution and the expenses issue, read Need to Know’s article here.