Qaddafi supporters gather as opposition calls for day of rage

Reuters, TRIPOLI

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 - Page 1

Several hundred supporters of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi gathered in the capital yesterday to counteract online calls for an anti-government “day of rage” inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said Libyan authorities had detained 14 activists, writers and protesters who had been preparing the anti-government protests and there was no sign of any opposition demonstrations in the capital.

Libya’s Quryna newspaper reported that two young civilians were killed in clashes on Wednesday in the city of al-Bayda, in the east of the country, and that the regional security chief had been removed from his post as a result.

In a country where public dissent is rarely tolerated, plans for the protests were being circulated by anonymous activists on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but telephone lines to some parts of the country were out of order.

Libya has been tightly controlled for more than 40 years by Qaddafi — who is Africa’s longest-serving leader — but the oil exporter has felt the ripples from the overthrow of long-standing leaders in its neighbors Egypt and Tunisia.

A reporter said government supporters had assembled in Tripoli’s Green Square, next to the ancient medina, or old city.

They chanted: “We are defending Qaddafi and the revolution,” and “the revolution continues.”

In Libya, the military coup in 1969 which brought Qaddafi to power is referred to as the revolution. There was no sign of any anti-government protests.

On Omar al-Mokhtar Street, Tripoli’s main thoroughfare, traffic was moving as normal, banks and shops were open and there was no increased security presence.

Witnesses and local media reported that several hundred people clashed with police and Qaddafi supporters on Tuesday night in the city of Benghazi, about 1,000km east of the Libyan capital.

Late on Wednesday evening, it was impossible to contact witnesses in Benghazi because telephone connections to the city appeared to be out of order.

Qaddafi was quoted as saying on Wednesday that “revolutionaries” would prevail, although he did not mention the unrest.

“Down with the enemies, down with them everywhere. Down with the puppets everywhere, the puppets are falling, the autumn leaves are falling.” the BBC quoted Qaddafi as saying. “The puppets of the USA, the puppets of Zionism are falling.”

The BBC also quoted an unnamed senior Libyan official as warning that the authorities “will not allow a group of people to move around at night and play with the security of Libya.”

Though some Libyans complain about unemployment, inequality and limits on political freedoms, analysts say an Egypt-style revolt is unlikely because the government can use oil revenues to smooth over most social problems.

“We have problems,” said Mustafa Fetouri, a Tripoli-based political analyst and university professor. “This is a society that is still behind in many ways, there are certain legitimate problems that have to be sorted out. [However,] I do not really see it [the unrest] spreading ... Qaddafi remains well respected and if there is any kind of measure of his popularity, I am sure he would come out with a majority.”