Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s grip on his country appears to be weakening after eight days of protests, as support for the dictator dissolved on multiple fronts Monday and the leader brutally repressed anti-government protesters.
Yesterday, Libya’s ambassador to the U.S., Ali Aujali, formally broke with Qaddafi and called for him to step down. In addition, Libya’s ambassadors to India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Australia, Malaysia, and China, as well as Libya’s permanent representative to the Arab League and its deputy UN ambassador have all resigned. And in Benghazi, where the protests began, an army unit switched sides, helping protesters take control of Libya’s second largest city.
Protesters wave a pre-Qaddafi-era Libyan flag in Benghazi on Monday, where demonstrators are said to have control.
Also on Monday, clashes intensified in the capital of Tripoli where Qaddafi unleashed a brutal crack-down, ordering militiamen to besiege parts of the country’s capital overnight. According to unconfirmed reports, security forces were roving the streets in trucks and firing freely as planes dropped what witnesses described as “small bombs” and helicopters fired on protesters. Witnesses described the streets of Tripoli as a war zone.
With communications down and access to international journalists constrained, information from inside the country remains limited. According to Human Rights Watch, however, at least 233 people have been killed.
Qaddafi, the longest serving Arab leader, has shown no signs that he is ready to give up on his 42-year dictatorship just yet. “We will fight until the last man, until the last woman, until the last bullet,” Qaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, said in a televised speech Monday. And on Tuesday, Qaddafi himself spoke to the nation, vowing to remain in the country “until the end,” saying that he is prepared to die as a “martyr” rather than leave.
Any given ruler only has so much power, however, especially as army units show signs of backing protesters. As witnessed in Egypt, without the army’s support, dictatorial governments have little chance of surviving. For now, Qaddafi is holding on; but his fate hangs in the balance.