Libya's Gaddafi braces after neighbours fall

AFP , Wednesday 16 Feb 2011

The four-decade-old regime of Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi faces rare Internet calls for protests on Thursday by activists buoyed by the ouster of veteran strongmen on its eastern and western borders, in both Egypt and Tunisia

A supporter chants slogan towards Muammar Gaddafi during a ceremony marking the birth of Prophet Mohammad in Tripoli, (Photo:Reuters).

In Libya, demonstrations are being called to commemorate the deaths of 14 protesters in 2006 in an Islamist rally in Libya's second city of Benghazi but they are being fuelled by the wave of protests that has swept through the Arab world, rocking regimes that have long seemed unmovable.

Like protest movements elsewhere in the region, the dissidents have been using the Internet in a bid to rally support in a country where the media are tightly controlled by the state.

Under the banner "The February 17 Intifada (Uprising): A Day of Strikes in Libya", a Facebook group urging a popular uprising had garnered more than 5,000 members by Tuesday.

Another group of nearly 8,000 members invited the Libyan people to take to the streets for a "day of anger against corruption and nepotism."

A total of 69 people were also wounded in the 2006 protest in which the consulate of former colonial power Italy was targeted by demonstrators angry at cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Authorities have been sufficiently concerned about the scale of potential protests that they have hit out in a bid to discredit the dissidents.

At prayers attended by Gaddafi on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the birth of the prophet, the floor was opened to a "representative of the families of the Benghazi martyrs" to "renew their allegiance" to the veteran leader, who seized power in a 1969 coup ousting a Western-backed monarchy.

"We will not allow traitors and mercenaries to help themselves to the blood of our sons," the speaker said.

Loyalists in the congregation brandished placards reading: "The people set themselves on fire to drive out the regime, while we burn the world so our leader Muammer Gaddafi can stay."

The last was an allusion to the self-immolations that fanned the fires of protest in neighbouring Tunisia prompting the departure of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and inspiring the 18 straight days of demonstrations that triggered the resignation of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

"Nothing like Mubarak or Zine, we are in harmony with our leader," the loyalists chanted.

In a petition of which AFP obtained a copy, more than 200 signatories and exiled opposition groups stressed "the right of the Libyan people to express their opinions in peaceful protest, without any form of harassment, threats or provocations" by the regime.

They also called on Gaddafi and his family to relinquish authority and "revolutionary, political, military and security" powers.

Taking advantage of the possibilities of the Internet, Libyan rapper Ben Thabet has published songs railing against the regime and calling on his countrymen to revolt.
"Muammer, I swear we're nearing your end," he sings in one song, continuing: "The wealth you've plundered / the innocent people you've killed / students you've abandoned / will you face now, you can't flee anywhere."

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