Emerging reports early Feb. 21 indicate the unrest in Libya is
spreading from eastern Libya to the capital of Tripoli. According to
initial reports, heavy gunfire was heard in central Tripoli and in other
districts with Al Jazeera reporting 61 people killed in Tripoli on Feb.
21. Other unconfirmed reports say that protesters attacked the
headquarters of Al-Jamahiriya Two television and Al-Shababia as well as
other government buildings in Tripoli overnight. According to
Saudi-owned al-Arabiya, the government-owned People’s Conference Centre
where the General People’s Congress (parliament) meets when it is in
session in Tripoli was set on fire. U.K. energy firm British Petroleum
reportedly said it would evacuate its personnel from Libya and suspend
its activities due to massive unrest. Spain’s Foreign Minister Trinidad
Jimenez said on Feb. 21 that the EU member states are coordinating
possible evacuations of European nationals from Libya. A Turkish
Airlines flight was arranged to evacuate Turkish citizens from Benghazi
but was denied the opportunity to land by Libyan authorities and
returned to Turkey.
Details are sketchy as to the number of protesters and severity of
the clashes in Tripoli. Clashes have been going on between the
protesters and security forces in mostly eastern cities of the country
and in Benghazi in particular, where opposition against Libyan leader
Moammar Gadhafi is concentrated. Signs of protests spreading to Tripoli
emerged late Feb. 20 and apparently intensified following a speech made by Ghaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam.
In that speech, Seif al-Islam was attempting to present himself as the
new and untarnished face of the regime, reiterating the political,
social and economic reforms that he has long advocated were needed to
hold Libya’s tribal society together. Though in his speech Seif
al-Islam carefully distanced himself from old-regime tactics, protesters
in Tripoli reportedly rejected the young Libyan leader and began
chanting slogans against Seif al-Islam’s address.
Critically, Seif al-Islam implied in his speech that he had the the
approval of his father and elements within the military, and that the
army and national guard would be relied on to crack down on “seditious
elements” spreading unrest. However, unconfirmed reports of army
defections in Benghazi and Baida in eastern Libya from Feb. 20 and now
spreading unrest to Tripoli Feb. 21 is casting some doubt on the
regime’s ability to count on the full loyalty and ability of the army to
contain the situation.