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Protests Break Out in Libya

Libyan pro-government supporters hold portraits of leader Moammar Gadhafi during a gathering in Tripoli, February 16, 2011
Libyan pro-government supporters hold portraits of leader Moammar Gadhafi during a gathering in Tripoli, February 16, 2011

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Hundreds of pro-government demonstrators marched and chanted in the streets of the Libyan capital Tripoli and the coastal port city of Benghaz. The demonstrations follow reports in the Libyan press of disturbances by anti-government protesters Tuesday in Benghazi.

Libyan government TV showed large crowds of mostly young supporters of Libyan leader Colonel Moammar Gadhafi.  Many were carrying banners, signs and portraits of the colonel, as they chanted slogans in his favor.  The TV indicated the demonstrations were taking place all across the country.

Supporters at one large rally denounced Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV, calling it "despicable."  The Libyan press has attacked al-Jazeera TV in recent weeks for what it calls "biased coverage" during popular demonstrations that toppled the veteran rulers of both Tunisia and Egypt.

Many of the teenage demonstrators could be seen in the Libyan TV images surrounded by older men leading the chants and encouraging the young men to clap and shout.  In one clip, a middle-aged man read a statement in support of Libyan leader Mr. Gadhafi.

He says the people of the Libyan People’s Republic, responding to the recent actions of spies and mercenaries, as well as reports in unreliable media organs, express our love. support and dedication.  He says the demonstrators are soldiers for Mr. Gadhafi and he is their leader for life.  He adds that the people will use an iron fist to strike the spies and mercenaries trying to destroy the country.

The pro-government demonstrations follow clashes Tuesday in Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi, in which at least several-dozen people were injured.  Libyan newspapers denounced the protests, which a Facebook support group called a "Day of Anger" against the government.

Demonstrators could be seen clashing with police in several videos on YouTube.  Videos of other alleged anti-government demonstrations in smaller Libyan cities are also posted on YouTube.

North Africa expert at the Paris Institute for Political Studies (Institut d’etudes politiques de Paris), Luis Martinez, says that anti-government protests take place in Libya regularly, but are often not reported by the media.

He notes there have been serious social problems in Benghazi and Tripoli resulting in protests during the past 10 years.  He adds that such protests take on a new dimension in light of recent popular unprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Middle East Studies Program Director Fouad Ajami, of the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, recently told VOA he thinks Mr. Gadhafi will use whatever force it takes to suppress any popular revolt.

Martinez concurs with Ajami that events in Libya will probably not snowball into mass protests as they did in Egypt, because the Libyan Army is what he describes as "marginalized' in comparison to two other key forces, the Revolutionary Guard and the Revolutionary Committees.  But he says such a conflict would be "extremely violent" if it were to break out, because the army and the Revolutionary Guard are well-armed.  

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