Gadhafi son offers reform if protests end

Feb. 20, 2011 at 7:44 PM
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TRIPOLI, Libya, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Anti-government protesters in Libya battled back against gunfire from the forces of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi again Sunday, witnesses said.

Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, said in a speech on state TV early Monday the protests were the work of drunks, criminals and foreigners, CNN reported. He warned there could be civil war, a return to colonialism and mass poverty if citizens don't back the current government, the U.S. news network said.

"This is a national treason," the younger Gadhafi said. "Each one of us wants to be a leader, each one of us wants to be a prince."

He said if the demonstrators disband, the government would begin reforms, including the creation of a constitution and the easing of restrictions on the people.

Little has been heard from the elder Gadhafi, though he has appeared briefly on state television at a pro-government rally.

The Daily Telegraph reported on the sixth day of protests the throngs of demonstrators were spreading from Benghazi toward Tripoli.

The British newspaper said thousands of Britons were being evacuated from Libya.

Human Rights Watch said more than 300 people have died in Libya's protests, though verified numbers were not available, the Telegraph said.

"Benghazi is a war zone -- the situation is very tense," a highly placed source in Tripoli told the Telegraph. "Troops including mercenaries are being sent there by plane. The fighting is intensifying.

"Lots of people are being killed, including members of the security forces. The figures are certainly above 200, with many thousands more injured."

Protests also took place in Morocco, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen, the Voice of America reported.

Several thousand anti-government demonstrators took to the streets in Rabat, Morocco, demanding King Mohammed relinquish power. The protesters want an end to government corruption, greater economic opportunities and a new constitution, VOA said.

Thousands of Tunisians rallied in Tunis, calling for the resignation of the country's interim government, which has yet to set a date for elections since President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in mid-January.

Pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain have set up a tent camp in Manama's main square and have called for a general strike.

About 1,000 students rallied in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, pushing for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit, while a smaller pro-Saleh group staged a counter-rally

In Libya, Lt. Col. Mohammed al-Majbari initially led the government security response in Benghazi but switched sides after several days. He told CNN soldiers had "caused a massacre" by opening fire on demonstrators from the ground and helicopters.

"(Gadhafi) is not a human being," he said. "A Libyan would never do this to his people. He is a dictator."

A doctor in Benghazi repeated the massacre reference to the BBC, saying troops had used heavy cannons Saturday on a crowd that resulted in 45 bodies and 900 wounded showing up at her hospital alone.

The Guardian reported a student in Benghazi it identified only as a student blogger who is part of the protest movement in Libya said by telephone she could hear gunshots, people screaming an helicopters flying overhead.

She said people are living in fear under Gadhafi and "enough is enough."

"Now people are dying we've got nothing else to live for," she said. "What needs to happen is for the killing to stop. But that won't happen until he is out. We just want to be able to live like human beings. Nothing will happen until protests really kick off in Tripoli, the capital. It's like a pressure cooker. People are boiling up inside."

The Telegraph said fighting also was taking place in al-Bayda, Ajdabiya, Darnah, Misrata and Tobruk, with witnesses reporting Molotov cocktails, rifles and swords being used by demonstrators.

In Darnah, one group seized an arms depot, and were holding civilians and soldiers hostage, the newspaper said.

Protesters claimed Ajdabiya to be a "Free City" after the headquarters of the "revolutionary committee" through which the regime ruled the area, were burned down on Friday.

The New York Times reported Libyan security forces fired on a funeral procession in Benghazi Sunday as residents buried dozens of dead from a crackdown the day before.

"The most dreadful crime against humanity is taking place in this city," the Times quoted Abdel Latif al-Hadi, a 54-year-old Benghazi resident as saying. "In the eastern region, there is no going back after this bloodbath.

"These young men are taking bullets in their chests to confront the tyrant."

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