21 Feb 2011

Libya: hundreds dead as pressure mounts on Gaddafi

Hundreds are killed in clashes in Libya as pressure mounts on leader Colonel Gaddafi amid reports he could make a speech “shortly”. Channel 4 News hears from an eyewitness to the violence.

Violent protests in Libya have escalated in recent days leaving hundreds dead and many more wounded following protests inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Al Arabiya television is reporting that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi will give a speech “shortly” as the Libyan leader comes under pressure from the international community and is hit by defections from senior allies and diplomats across the globe.

Details on the speech are not forthcoming, as rumours continue to circulate that Gaddafi has actually left the country – possibly for Venezuela, although Venezuelan officials denied this.

Libya: has Gaddafi fled the country? 

After days of violence, and unverified reports that the army has been instructed to fire on its own people and doctors attacked, human rights groups have called for the authorities to exercise restraint and stop unlawful killings. At least 200 people have died – although activists have said the number is likely to be much higher.

Maltese officials said two Libyan fighter jets which landed in Malta contained pilots who had defected rather than bomb protesters.

“People are getting killed wherever they are in the streets, they are getting killed,” one eyewitness said via Audioboo.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, spoke to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and expressed his deep concern over the escalating violence, which he said “must stop immediately”.


Amid a near-total media blackout and a ban on journalists entering Libya, verifying reports has been virtually impossible with fractured information filtering out of the country.

On the internet, amateur footage has emerged showing people with severe injuries being carried away from confrontations with the security forces as it appears protests have spread across Libya’s towns and cities. Other pictures emerged of people with bloodied heads and faces.

A video is also circulating the internet purportedly showing the blackened dead bodies of soldiers burnt for refusing to fire on protesters who are calling for an end to Gaddafi’s 40-year rule.

A database of those killed over the past week has been created by online activists with at least 56 victims listed in the Benghazi area, which has seen fierce violence in recent days. The age of victims ranges from one to 36 – and all were reportedly killed on the same day.

Libya violence: hundreds dead as minister resigns

Mass resignations

While the number of dead reportedly continues to rise, the Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil resigned over “the excessive use of violence against protesters,” the country’s privately-owned Quryna newspaper reported.

The newspaper said it had spoken to the minister by telephone. There was no immediate official confirmation of the resignation. The news came after a number of Libyan diplomats also resigned after the “oppression against protesters“, increasing pressure on the Gaddafi regime further.

Libya’s deputy permanent representative to the UN Ibrahim Dabbashi called for Gaddafi’s resignation, saying he had committed “war crimes”.

Libya’s representative to the Arab League tendered his resignation at the weekend while diplomats and embassy staff in China, Sweden and India have also stepped down from their posts following the unrest.

In Britain, there were reports the London staff had resigned – although their attempts to re-hang the flag of the Gaddafi regime after protesters unhooked it may suggest otherwise.

International human rights lawyer Robert Amsterdam told Channel 4 News the resignations were an “unparalleled” response to the unrest which showed diplomats were conscious of international prosecutions.

“The mass of resignations are not pangs of conscious, this is the International Criminal Court at work,” Robert Amsterdam told Channel 4 News.

“This is a tremendous sign that there has been a mass of rising consciousness for the accountability for alleged murders that 20 years ago would not have been acknowledged. The resignations in Libya are somewhat unparalleled. People are now looking and saying, ‘What’s my responsibility?’

“There seems to be a realisation among leaders in Libya that their own security and safety is at risk over the killings that appears to have taken place.”