Anti Gadhafi Protest 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
CAIRO — After anti-government unrest spread to the Libyan capital and protesters seized military bases and weapons, Moammar Gadhafi's son went on state television overnight Sunday to proclaim that his father remained in charge with the army's backing and would "fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet."
Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, in the regime's first comments on the six days of demonstrations, warned the protesters that they risked igniting a civil war in which Libya's oil wealth "will be burned."
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The speech followed a fierce crackdown by security forces who fired on thousands of demonstrators and funeral marchers in the eastern city of Benghazi in a bloody cycle of violence that killed 60 people on Sunday alone, according to a doctor in one city hospital. Since the six days of unrest began, more than 200 people have been killed, according to medical officials, human rights groups and exiled dissidents.
Libya's response has been the harshest of any Arab country that has been wracked by the protests that toppled long-serving leaders in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. But Gadhafi's son said his father would prevail.
"We are not Tunisia and Egypt," he said. "Moammar Gadhafi, our leader, is leading the battle in Tripoli, and we are with him.
"The armed forces are with him. Tens of thousands are heading here to be with him. We will fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet," he said in a rambling and sometimes confused speech of nearly 40 minutes.
Although the elder Gadhafi did not appear, his son has often been put forward as the regime's face of reform.
Western countries have expressed concern at the rising violence against demonstrators in Libya. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he spoke to Seif al-Islam by phone and told him that the country must embark on "dialogue and implement reforms," the Foreign Office said.
In his speech, the younger Gadhafi conceded the army made some mistakes during the protests because the troops were not trained to deal with demonstrators, but he added that the number of dead had been exaggerated, giving a death toll of 84.
He 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.
Dressed in a dark business suit and tie, Seif al-Islam wagged his finger
frequently as he delivered his warnings. He said that if protests
continued, Libya would slide back to "colonial" rule. "You will get
Americans and European fleets coming your way and they will occupy you.
He threatened to "eradicate the pockets of sedition" and said the army will play a main role in restoring order.
"There has to be a firm stand," he said. "This is not the Tunisian or Egyptian army."
Protesters had seized some military bases, tanks and other weapons, he
said, blaming Islamists, the media, thugs, drunks and drug abusers,
foreigners — including Egyptians and Tunisians.
He also admitted that the unrest had spread to Tripoli, with people firing in central Green Square before fleeing.
The rebellion by Libyans frustrated with Gadhafi's more than 40 years of
authoritarian rule has spread to more than a half-dozen eastern cities —
but also to Tripoli, where secret police were heavily deployed on the
streets of the city of 2 million.
Armed security forces were seen on rooftops surrounding 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.