Anti-government protesters rallied in Tripoli’s streets, tribal leaders spoke out against Gaddafi, and army units defected to the opposition as oil exporter Libya endured one of the bloodiest revolts to convulse the Arab world.
Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi appeared on national television in an attempt both to threaten and calm people, saying the army would enforce security at any price.
“Our spirits are high and the leader Muammar Gaddafi is leading the battle in Tripoli, and we are behind him as is the Libyan army,” he said. “We will keep fighting until the last man standing, even to the last woman standing … We will not leave Libya to the Italians or the Turks.”
Wagging a finger at the camera, he blamed Libyan exiles for fomenting the violence. But he also promised dialogue on reforms and wage rises.
A Tripoli resident, who did not want to be identified, said the streets of the capital were calm early on Monday morning but that there was no sign of police, which is unusual for the city.
He said that late on Sunday night anti-Gaddafi protesters had been replaced by his supporters, who rallied in the centre of the city around Green Square until about 5 am (0400 GMT).
“After Saif al-Islam’s speech, the pro-Gaddafi people, especially the youth, were touring the streets, particularly in the centre, cheering Gaddafi. These people stayed up the whole night, they were marching all night, some driving in cars.
“They were in Green Square and along Omar al-Mokthar street. I would say there were hundreds,” he said.
“I talked to someone near the square where the clashes were taking place and he told me it was quiet and they (anti-government demonstrators) have now departed.
“Last night during the rioting there were police around and they were shooting into the air. But after that there have been no police around,” added the Tripoli resident.
Saif al-Islam’s cajoling may not be enough to douse the anger unleashed after four decades of rule by Gaddafi — mirroring events in Egypt where a popular revolt overthrew the seemingly impregnable President Hosni Mubarak 10 days ago.
“People here in Benghazi are laughing at what he is saying. It is the same old story (on promised reform) and nobody believes what he says,” a lawyer in Libya’s second city told the BBC after watching the speech.
“He is liar, liar, 42 years we have heard these lies.” The international community must do everything it can do prevent Libya sinking into civil war, French government spokesman Francois Baroin said on Monday.
“We’re extremely worried and shocked and we strongly condemn what’s happening, this unprecedented violence, which could descend into an extremely violent and lengthy civil war,” Baroin said in an interview on Europe 1 radio.
“The repression has begun and everything must be done at diplomatic level to coordinate the American and European positions to prevent something drastic happening.”
The United States said it was weighing “all appropriate actions” in response to the unrest.
“We are analysing the speech … to see what possibilities it contains for meaningful reform,” a US official said.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said that around 3,000 Turkish citizens had applied to be repatriated from Libya since Friday and the first plane was sent to Benghazi on Sunday morning, with more planes to be sent once permission was granted.
But CNN Turk reported that one Turkish Airlines plane had returned without landing amid reports that the airport had been taken over by opposition protesters. It was unclear if this plane was the same as the one mentioned by the foreign ministry.
In Benghazi, protesters appeared to be largely in control after forcing troops and police to retreat to a compound. Government buildings were set ablaze and ransacked.
“Security now, it is by the people,” the lawyer said. In the first sign of serious unrest in the capital, thousands of protesters clashed with Gaddafi supporters. Gunfire rang out in the night and police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators, some of whom threw stones at Gaddafi billboards.
South Korea said hundreds of Libyans, some armed with knives and guns, attacked a South Korean-run construction site in Tripoli, injuring at least 4 foreign workers.
Human Rights Watch said at least 223 people have been killed in five days of violence. Most were in Benghazi, cradle of the uprising and a region where Gaddafi’s grip has always been weaker than elsewhere in the oil-rich desert nation.
Habib al-Obaidi, a surgeon at the Al-Jalae hospital, said the bodies of 50 people, most of them shot, were brought there on Sunday afternoon. Two hundred wounded had arrived, he said.
Members of an army unit known as the “Thunderbolt” squad had brought wounded comrades to the hospital, he said. The soldiers said they had defected to the cause of the protesters and had fought and defeated Gaddafi’s elite guards.
The Libyan uprising is one of series of revolts that have raced like wildfire across the Arab world since December, toppling the long-time rulers of Tunisia and Egypt and threatening entrenched dynasties from Bahrain to Yemen. The West has watched with alarm as long-time allies and old foes have come under threat, appealing for reform and urging restraint.
Support for Gaddafi, the son of a herdsman who seized power in 1969, among Libya’s desert tribes was also waning. The leader of the Al-Zuwayya tribe in the east threatened to cut oil exports unless authorities halted “oppression of protesters”.
Libya is Africa’s fourth biggest oil exporter, producing 1.6 million barrels of oil a day.
Oil jumped by more than $1 a barrel to $103.5 a barrel on fears the unrest could disrupt supplies.
Khaama Press (KP)