CAIRO — The son of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi warned in a nationally televised address that continued anti-government protests that have wracked Libya for six days might lead to a civil war that could send the country's oil wells up in flames.
Appearing on Libyan state television after midnight Sunday, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi said the army still backed his father, who was leading the fight, although he added that some military bases, tanks and weapons had been seized.
'Libyan soldiers defect to protesters’ side in Benghazi'
Opinion: Shattering illusions of tranquility
"We are not Tunisia and Egypt," the younger Gadhafi said, referring to the successful uprisings that toppled longtime regimes in Libya's neighbors.
He acknowledged that the army made mistakes during protests because it was not trained to deal with demonstrators but added that the number of dead had been exaggerated, giving a death toll of 84. Human Rights Watch put the number at 174 through Saturday, and doctors in the eastern city of Benghazi said more than 200 have died since the protests began.
The younger Gadhafi offered to put forward reforms within days that he described as a "historic national initiative" and said the regime was willing to remove some restrictions and begin discussions for a constitution. He offered to change a number of laws, including those covering the media and the penal code.
Earlier on Sunday, security forces loyal to Gadhafi unleashed heavy
gunfire on thousands marching in a rebellious eastern city,
cutting down mourners trying to bury victims in a bloody cycle of
violence that has killed more than 200 people in the fiercest crackdown
on the uprisings in the Arab world.
Protests were even reported to have spread to downtown Tripoli and a
coastal city only about 45 miles (about 70 kilometers) to the west of
the capital. In Benghazi, site of the funeral clashes, pro-Gadhafi
forces were chased from a presidential compound by other troops
sympathetic to the anti-government demonstrators, a witness said.
Western countries expressed concern at the rising violence against demonstrators in oil-rich Libya, which is sandwiched between friendly neighbors Egypt and Tunisia — where long-serving leaders were successfully toppled in recent weeks. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said hIn the first-known defection from Gadhafi's regime, Libya's
representative to the Arab League said he resigned his post to protest
his government's decision to fire on defiant demonstrators in the
second-largest city of Benghazi. Also, a major tribe in Libya was
reported to have turned against Gadhafi.
Eyewitness reports trickling out of the isolated country where the
Internet has been largely shut down and journalists cannot work freely
suggested that protesters were fighting back more forcefully against the
Middle East's longest-serving leader.
Libya's rebellion by those frustrated with Gadhafi's more than 40 years
of authoritarian rule has spread to more than a half-dozen eastern
In Tripoli, a Gadhafi stronghold, there have been few reports of
protests said to have been quickly put down. Secret police were heavily
deployed on the streets of the city of 2 million.
On Sunday, however, armed security forces were seen on rooftops
surrounding central Green Square, a witness said by telephone, speaking
on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. The witness added that a
group of about 200 lawyers and judges were protesting inside a Tripoli
courthouse, which was also surrounded by security forces.
An exiled opposition leader in Cairo said hundreds of protesters were
near the Bab al-Aziziya military camp where Gadhafi lives on the
outskirts of Tripoli. Faiz Jibril said his contacts inside Libya were
also reporting that hundreds of protesters had gathered in another
downtown plaza, Martyrs Square.
Libyan state TV showed Gadhafi in Tripoli being cheered by supporters,
including tribesmen and women chanting "God, Moammar and Libya — that is
In another key blow to Gadhafi, the Warfla tribe — the largest in Libya,
has announced it is joining the protests, said Switzerland-based Libyan
exile Fathi al-Warfali. Although it had longstanding animosity toward
the Libyan leader, it had been neutral for most of the past two decades.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said the Obama
administration was "very concerned" about reports that Libyan security
forces had fired on peaceful protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi.
"We've condemned that violence," Rice told "Meet the Press" on NBC. "Our
view is that in Libya as throughout the region peaceful protests need
to be respected."
The Arab League said it was following with great concern the
demonstrations in Arab countries and called for "the immediate halt of
all acts of violence and to refrain from using force against the
In Cairo, Libya's Arab League representative Abdel-Monem al-Houni said
he told the Foreign Ministry in Tripoli that he had "resigned from all
his duties and joined the popular revolution."
"As a Libyan citizen, I absolutely cannot be quiet about these crimes,"
he said, adding that he had renounced all links to the regime because of
"my complete devotion to my people."
Al-Houni was part of the group that carried out the coup in 1969 that
brought Gadhafi to power. He later fell out with the Libyan leader, but
they reconciled in 2000. Gadhafi then named him to the Arab League post. He told Gadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, that the country must embark on "dialogue and implement reforms," the Foreign Office said.