A Volatile Libya Still Held Under Iron Rule

February 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Brief History of Libya

Libya is a communist and capitalist country on the northern tip of Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Oil was discovered in 1959, making it a very wealthy state. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi came to power in 1969 when he was just 27 years old after he led a bloodless coup (pronounced “coo”–a highly successful, unexpected act or move), overthrowing former leader King Idris. In his 40 years of power, Gaddafi has shown to be erratic and quixotic, and he keeps a firm arm on his country. In what is known as the Lockerbie Bombing, Gaddafi strained relations with the United States and basically the rest of the world in 1988 when he ordered the bombing of a Pan AM flight, killing 270 people (most were Americans). Ties between the United States and this African nation have slightly improved since.

Muammar Gaddafi

What’s Happening Now

In January, unrest swept across Arab countries in the Middle East. Members of Libya’s neighbor country, Egypt, successfully protested for more than two weeks. They demanded their president, Hosni Mubarack, to step down and give them free elections. Egypt’s protests were considerably peaceful compared to Gaddafi’s deadly reaction to the anti-government riots. The Egyptian protesters proved successful, when Mubarack agreed to step down two weeks later.

A rebel group armed with gasoline bombs protested outside a Libyan government office on February 16. Using Facebook and Twitter, the protesters called for nationwide demonstrations to throw Gaddafi out of power. Two days later, the protests and riots continued to gain momentum. The government began a harsh crackdown and Human Rights Watch said 24 people were killed by gunfire. The Libyan government then closed down the Internet, thus cutting communication between its people and the rest of the world.

By February 20, the uprising spread to other cities in the nation. Foreign journalists were banned from entering the country. 1,000 were reported dead by Gaddafi’s regime three days later. It was also reported that his forces were removing bodies from hospitals in an effort to hide the actual death toll. At this point, members of Gaddafi’s own armed forces and security began switching sides as he refused to let go of his power. On February 24 after losing trust in his own generals, Gaddafi called on thousands of a secret security force and mercenary he’s built up over the years to help him fight the protesters. The U.N. Security Council began discussing the creation of sanctions against Libyan leaders and their inner circle, and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) convened an emergency session to discuss how to handle the increasingly deadly and chaotic situation.

On February 26, Gaddafi attempted to prove he had firm control of his country by inviting foreign journalists to the capital, Tripoli. The act backfired, however, when witnesses watched snipers with antiaircraft weapons firing at and killing unarmed civilians. The U.S. closed its embassy there and imposed international sanctions on Gaddafi and his regime. An arms embargo, an asset freeze, and a travel ban were placed on Gaddafi, close relatives, and his inner circle of 16 people. NATO unanimously voted to impose sanctions on Gaddafi, his immediate family, and his top associates on February 27. The council members also voted to refer the deadly government crackdown to a permanent war crimes tribunal for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity.

After the major sanctions were imposed, President Obama broke his silence on the issue in a telephone conversation with his close European ally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Obama told her that Gaddafi’s time as ruler is up.

“The president stated that when a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now,” the White House said.

The use of mass violence is in reference to the weapons of mass destruction that Libya still possesses. As he did during the Egyptian revolts, Obama continues to consult with world leaders on the growing concerns in Libya.

Foreign governments and countries are now scrambling to get their citizens safely out of the country.

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