Gadhafi's son warns of civil war in Libya

Monday, February 21, 2011

CAIRO -- The son of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi warned in a nationally televised address that continued anti-government protests that have wracked Libya for six days might lead to a civil war that could send the country's oil wells up in flames.

Appearing on Libyan state television after midnight Sunday, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi said the army still backed his father, who was leading the fight, although he added that some military bases, tanks and weapons had been seized.

"We are not Tunisia and Egypt," the younger Gadhafi said, referring to the successful uprisings that toppled longtime regimes in Libya's neighbors.

He acknowledged that the army made mistakes during protests because it was not trained to deal with demonstrators but added that the number of dead had been exaggerated, giving a death toll of 84. Human Rights Watch put the number at 174 through Saturday, and doctors in the eastern city of Benghazi said more than 200 have died since the protests began.

The younger Gadhafi offered to put forward reforms within days that he described as a "historic national initiative" and said the regime was willing to remove some restrictions and begin discussions for a constitution. He offered to change a number of laws, including those covering the media and the penal code.

Cycle of violence

Security forces loyal to Gadhafi unleashed heavy gunfire Sunday on thousands marching in a rebellious eastern city, cutting down mourners trying to bury victims in a bloody cycle of violence.

Protests were even reported to have spread to downtown Tripoli and a coastal city only about 45 miles to the west of the capital. In Benghazi, site of the funeral clashes, pro-Gadhafi forces were chased from a presidential compound by other troops sympathetic to the anti-government demonstrators, a witness said.

Western countries expressed concern at the rising violence against demonstrators in oil-rich Libya, which is sandwiched between friendly neighbors Egypt and Tunisia -- where long-serving leaders were successfully toppled in recent weeks. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he told Seif al-Islam that the country must embark on "dialogue and implement reforms," the Foreign Office said.

In the first-known defection from Gadhafi's regime, Libya's representative to the Arab League said he resigned his post to protest his government's decision to fire on defiant demonstrators in the second-largest city of Benghazi. Also, a major tribe in Libya was reported to have turned against Gadhafi.

"We are not afraid. We won't turn back," said a teacher who identified herself only as Omneya. She said she was marching at the end of the funeral procession on a highway beside the Mediterranean and heard gunfire from about a mile) away.

"If we don't continue, this vile man would crush us with his tanks and bulldozers. If we don't, we won't ever be free."

Omneya, who spoke by telephone, said one of those being buried was a toddler killed Saturday.

Eyewitness reports trickling out of the isolated country where the Internet has been largely shut down and journalists cannot work freely suggested that protesters were fighting back more forcefully against the Middle East's longest-serving leader.

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