Is Libya Next?
Protesters are met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and hot-water cannons in the country's second-largest city
About 2,000 people reportedly protested in Libya's second-largest city, Benghazi, Tuesday night, after the government arrested a human rights lawyer. The BBC's Jon Leyne says that violence between demonstrators and police erupted as the crowd hurled rocks and molotov cocktails and cops fired back with hot-water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets. Could Mu'ammar Qaddafi be the next Middle Eastern ruler to fall? He'd previously looked pretty stable. We've pulled together a few interesting details for you from the reports, though much remains unconfirmed.
A Libyan "Day of Rage" was planned for February 17, but apparently protesters wanted to get an early start. Though the lawyer was eventually released, protesters weren't satisfied and marched toward a central square in the city. Reports say between 14 and 38 people were injured, most of them police.
Libyan state TV showed pictures of people in Banghazi rallying in support for the government, and a pro-Qaddafi rally was staged in Tripoli Wednesday. Participants accused Al Jazeera of spreading lies and held up portraits of Gaddafi. Reuters reports that their slogans read "We sacrifice our blood and souls for you our leader!" and "We are a generation built by Muammar and anyone who opposes it will be destroyed!"
The relative restraint of Libyan police--there were few civilian injuries--should not be taken as a sign that Qaddafi is a nice dictator. Gaddafi had online organizers arrested and denounced Facebook. He's spend four decades running a "brutal police state," Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell explains. The lawyer in question is Fathi Terbil, who represents the families of a thousand political prisoners gunned down in a Tripoli jail in 1996. (The details of the incident were only made public in 2008, and the prisoners' bodies have never been found.) Many of the regime's opponents are from Benghazi.
"It's not easy to report in Libya, and details of the protests remain sketchy and hard to confirm," Hounshell writes. Still, though "it's not clear how far the unrest might spread, the mere fact that people are lifting up their heads in a brutal police state like Libya is an incredible testament to human courage. And the swift fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in next-door Tunisia is a reminder that even the toughest regimes can prove surprisingly brittle once that mantle of fear is lifted."