With the revolt in Libya widening, leader Muammar Gadhafi’s son went on state television to warn that a civil war would risk the country’s oil wealth and invite a return of colonial powers.
Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, in a broadcast carried on U.S. cable networks, said the Libyan army made errors in handling anti- government protests and that almost 100 people had been killed, less than half the toll compiled by Human Rights Watch. He also said that some demonstrators had captured military equipment.
Gadhafi said Libya is “not Tunisia and Egypt,” referring the revolutions that toppled the leadership of those two countries. At the same time he promised to conduct a dialogue with the opposition and a national debate on the constitution.
In the most serious challenge to Gadhafi’s 41 years of rule in the country, thousands of people demonstrated yesterday in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city. They were met by gunfire from forces loyal to Gadhafi, Human Rights Watch said, citing reports from witnesses.
The U.S. has received “multiple credible reports that hundreds of people have been killed and injured” and delivered its “strong objections” to the use of lethal force against protesters, Philip J. Crowley, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said in a statement.
U.K. Foreign Minister William Hague told Gadhafi’s son, Saif Gadhafi, in a call yesterday that the Libyan government’s actions “were unacceptable and would result in world-wide condemnation,” according to a Foreign Office statement.
Libya, holder of the largest crude oil reserves on the African continent, has become the focal point of region-wide protests ignited by the ouster of Tunisia’s president last month and energized by the fall of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak last week. Violence has flared in Yemen, Djibouti and Bahrain as governments sought to crack down on calls for reform.
Demonstrations also were reported yesterday in Iran and Morocco and analysts warned of the risk of unrest spreading to Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter. Saudi Arabia neighbors Bahrain and has a Shiite Muslim minority population in the east, where most of its oil is produced.
Persian Gulf shares slumped, sending Dubai’s benchmark stock index down the most this month. Swap contracts for Saudi Arabia, used as a measure of confidence although the country has no debt to insure, jumped 11.5 basis points to 138 last week, the highest since July 2009.
At least 233 people have died in Libya with hundreds injured in clashes between Gadhafi’s forces and anti-government protesters since Feb. 16, New York-based Human Rights Watch said.
The U.S. issued a travel warning for Libya, citing “violent clashes” in six cities in the east of the country including Benghazi. Libya has barred international media and human rights groups, making the full extent of deaths and injuries unknown, Crowley said.
The demonstrations show signs of fracturing Gadhafi’s rule. Libya’s representative to the Arab League said he had resigned from his post and had “joined the popular revolution,” Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency reported yesterday.
Challenge to U.S.
The violence rippling across the region poses a challenge to U.S. strategic interests in Bahrain and Djibouti, both U.S. allies, as well as in Yemen, whose government cooperates with the U.S. on anti-terrorism efforts.
“This will be bloody to the last moment but these leaders are finally aware of what is going on,” Helmy Sharawy, director of the African Arab Research Center in Cairo, said by phone. “We see it in Yemen, we see emergency meetings in the Gulf. They can’t ignore it anymore.”
Yemen’s main opposition group rejected an offer from President Ali Abdullah Saleh for dialogue with the government as long as protesters are being attacked by security forces and urged supporters to join in demonstrations. Five people have been killed in 10 days of protest.
In Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, seven opposition groups were today drawing up demands to put to the government as they discussed the government’s call for dialogue, said Ebrahim Sharif, head of the National Democratic Action Society.
Thousands of protesters yesterday poured back into the central square that has become the focus of protest in the Bahraini capital, Manama, after tanks, armored personnel carriers and riot police withdrew on the orders of Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Unions called off a general strike planned for today in response.
Pressure on Bahrain
U.S. President Barack Obama and members of his administration have pressured Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa to show restraint. They also have been “encouraging what is now transpiring, which seems to be the pull back of the military forces,” Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
In Iran, one protester was shot dead in Tehran as thousands gathered in main squares in the Iranian capital and clashed with government supporters, Dubai-based Al Arabiya television said. Security forces also clashed with demonstrators in the city of Shiraz, it reported.
Adding to turmoil in the region, two naval ships from Iran will pass through the Suez Canal and on to the Mediterranean Sea tomorrow, Reuters reported, citing an unidentified canal official.
Ahmed El Manakhly, head of traffic at the waterway, hasn’t received “any notifications about where they are and when they are requesting to cross,” he said by phone yesterday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran is seeking to “exploit the situation to expand its influence” by sending warships through the canal.
“Israel views this Iranian move with utmost gravity,” Netanyahu told the Cabinet yesterday, according to an e-mailed statement from his office.
The 120-mile (190-kilometer) Suez Canal carries about 2.5 percent of world oil output, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and is a key route for ships carrying Asian consumer goods to Europe.
Separately, the Tunisian government has presented Saudi Arabian authorities with a formal request to extradite ousted President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, according to a statement from the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The statement accuses Ben Ali of various crimes, including committing and inciting manslaughter, and sowing discord among citizens of the country by urging them to kill each other.
Middle East shares dropped yesterday, with the DFM General Index retreating 3.7 percent, the most since Jan. 30, to 1,536.45 at the 2 p.m. close in Dubai. Kuwait’s gauge tumbled 2.5 percent and Qatar’s QE Index decreased 1.6 percent. Oman’s MSM30 Index fell 1.1 percent, Bahrain’s gauge dropped 0.2 percent and Abu Dhabi’s ADX General Index lost 1.9 percent. Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index declined 0.8 percent.
--With assistance from Viola Gienger, Kate Andersen Brower, Terry Atlas and Danielle Ivory in Washington, Joseph Link in New York, Camilla Hall in Dubai, Fiona MacDonald in Kuwait, Vivian Salama, Svenya O’Donnell, Caroline Alexander and Mike Harrison in London, Maram Mazen in Khartoum, William Davison in Addis Ababa, Mohammed Hatam in Sanaa, Salah Slimani in Algiers, Ola Galal in Cairo and Benjamin Harvey in Ankara. Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Ann Hughey.
To contact the reporters on this story: Glen Carey in Manama, Bahrain, at email@example.com; Ola Galal in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org
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