I’ve been paying a lot of attention to events in Libya, and in its capital city, Tripoli. I have a personal interest. Some 60 years ago I lived there for about 6 months in a house overlooking the harbour.
So when I saw video footage today of Gaddafi speaking in Green Square in Tripoli, I wondered if it really was Green Square. I dug up a few photos, and fairly soon managed to work out that he was standing on the ramparts of the Red Fort (Assaraya Alhamra) in Tripoli, right by the harbour.
On the right below is part of the video footage, and above it a photo of the Red Fort. So yes, he actually was there earlier this evening. Interesting way of validating a news report.
But why was he up on the ramparts? Why wasn’t he down in the raised, covered pavilion at street level (which seems to be a permanent feature, given that it’s in all the photos), where his supporters would be able to see his face as he spoke to them. I suppose the obvious answer was that he didn’t want to get too close to them, and didn’t entirely trust them. If it all turned nasty, he was behind some stout walls.
As best I can gather from the news reports from Al Jazeera, most of the east of Libya, which is where the oilfields are, is in the hands of the rebels. A couple of towns to the west of Tripoli, including Sabratah and Az Zawiyah, are also in rebel hands. I’ve visited the ruined Roman city of Sabratha, so I know that place too.
With many Libyan diplomats deserting the regime, and a number of Gaddafi’s senior people fleeing, it looks like Gaddafi’s days are numbered. Except that he shows no sign of recognising this himself. And since several of his sons seem to have well-equipped military brigades of their own, and the rebels seem to mostly be armed with stones or at best hunting rifles and pistols, there’s likely to be a terrible bloodbath if Gaddafi uses his superior loyal military forces to recapture the rebel towns one by one.
Obama has said next to nothing. Nor has Cameron, except to say that there would be consequences for any crimes. And the UN seems to be simply formulating the right words for doing nothing beyond imposing sanctions on Libya, and freezing bank accounts. I can’t see how that will help.
Meanwhile, everybody else is scrambling to get out as fast as they can. The Brits seem to have mostly managed to get out. A ferry-load of Americans followed today. Petrol prices are soaring all round the world, as Libya’s oil exports have dried up. I read today that Libya supplies a quarter of Italy’s natural gas. And the Italian government are very worried about hundreds of thousands of Libyans seeking asylum in Italy.
It’s not just Libya either. There were continuing demonstrations in Tunisia (where Ben Ali was toppled a month or two back), and also in Egypt (where Mubarak was toppled), and in Iraq, and Yemen, and Bahrain. The whole region looks set to catch fire.
Yesterday in a rambling speech broadcast on radio, Gaddafi was blaming the insurgency on Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, who had been drugging the youth with pills to make them riot. Today, standing on the Red Fort, he was pointing the finger at Italy and Turkey, and threatening a bloodbath.
If it was down to me, I’d be seriously considering landing a rapid deployment force in Benghazi in eastern Libya to shore up the rebels there, and prevent a bloodbath. And then I’d bring in some more firepower to defeat Gaddafi’s units in the field. Then I’d call elections and hand Libya back to the Libyans. But I doubt anyone will actually do anything in the least bit like that. Too obvious.