Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Libya's capital Tripoli sinking into anarchy

A Libyan popular defence committee, holds his AK-47 as he flashes V sign in front an anti-aircraft missile at an abandoned Libyan military base near Tobruk, Libya, on Wednesday, Feb.23, 201
A Libyan popular defence committee, holds his AK-47 as he flashes V sign in front an anti-aircraft missile at an abandoned Libyan military base near Tobruk, Libya, on Wednesday, Feb.23, 201
Libyan protetsers protest against Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi, in Tobruk, Libya, on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011. Heavy gunfire broke out in Tripoli as forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi tightened their grip on the Libyan capital while anti-government protesters claimed control of many cities elsewhere and top government officials and diplomats turn against the longtime leader.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
JDIR - FEBRUARY 23: People who recently crossed the border from Libya into Tunisia try to board a bus for those displaced on February 23, 2011 in Jdir, Tunisia. As fighting continues in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli, thousands of guest workers and Libyans are fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to fight to the end. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
JDIR, TUNISIA - FEBRUARY 23: A man hands out bread and water to people crossing into Tunisia from Libya on February 23, 2011 in Jdir, Tunisia. As fighting continues in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli, thousands of guest workers and Libyans are fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to fight to the end. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
JDIR - FEBRUARY 23: People who recently crossed the border from Libya into Tunisia try to board a bus for those displaced on February 23, 2011 in Jdir, Tunisia. As fighting continues in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli, thousands of guest workers and Libyans are fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to fight to the end. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Residents gather near the courthouse, as a flag of Libya's monarchy prior to Moammar Gadhafi's reign flies above, in Benghazi, Libya, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011. Militiamen loyal to Moammar Gadhafi clamped down in Tripoli Wednesday, but cracks in his regime spread elsewhere across the nation, as the protest-fueled rebellion controlling much of eastern Libya claimed new gains closer to the capital. (AP Photo/Alaguri)
An effigy representing Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi, marked with a Star of David on its forehead, hangs from a flagpole in Benghazi, Libya Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011. Militiamen loyal to Moammar Gadhafi clamped down in Tripoli Wednesday, but cracks in his regime spread elsewhere across the nation, as the protest-fueled rebellion controlling much of eastern Libya claimed new gains closer to the capital. (AP Photo/Alaguri)
Graffiti showing a caricature of Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi with writing in arabic reading "The Monkey of Monkeys of Africa", a reference to Gadhafi's self-declared title "The King of Kings of Africa", is seen on a wall in Benghazi, Libya Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011. Militiamen loyal to Moammar Gadhafi clamped down in Tripoli Wednesday, but cracks in his regime spread elsewhere across the nation, as the protest-fueled rebellion controlling much of eastern Libya claimed new gains closer to the capital. (AP Photo/Alaguri)
LIBYA Protests 1...In this video image broadcast on Libyan state television early Tuesday Feb. 22, 2011, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is shown. Gadhafi appeared for less than a minute on state television and made brief remarks to say he was in the capital Tripoli and deny rumors he had to fled to Venezuela amid the unrest sweeping his country. (AP Photo/Libyan State Television) TV OUT LIBYA OUT...I
Egyptians, who have just crossed Salloum land port gate with Libya arrange their luggage on a mini bus, Wednesday, Feb.23, 2011. Turkey evacuated 3,000 citizens on two ships Wednesday from the chaos of Libya's uprising but thousands of other foreigners were still stranded at Tripoli airport, struggling to get a flight home.Several countries _ Russia, Germany and Ukraine among them _ sent more planes to help their citizens escape the turmoil engulfing the North African nation and the United States said Americans would be evacuated by ferry later Wednesday to the Mediterranean island of Malta.(AP Photo/Tarek Fawzy)
JDIR, TUNISIA - FEBRUARY 23: People fleeing Libya carry their luggage to the Tunisian border post on February 23, 2011 in Jdir, Tunisia. As fighting continues in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli, thousands of migrant workers and Libyans are fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence. . (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
JDIR, TUNISIA - FEBRUARY 23: A girl who recently fled Libya sits on a bus with other displaced persons on the Tunisian side of the border on February 23, 2011 in Jdir, Tunisia. As fighting continues in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli, thousands of guest workers and Libyans are fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to fight to the end. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
JDIR, TUNISIA - FEBRUARY 23: People fleeing Libya carry their luggage to the Tunisian border post on February 23, 2011 in Jdir, Tunisia. As fighting continues in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli, thousands of guest workers and Libyans are fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddhafi has vowed to fight to the end. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
JDIR, TUNISIA - FEBRUARY 23: People fleeing Libya carry their luggage to the Tunisian border post on February 23, 2011 in Jdir, Tunisia. As fighting continues in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli, thousands of guest workers and Libyans are fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddhafi has vowed to fight to the end. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
JDIR, TUNISIA - FEBRUARY 23: People fleeing Libya carry their luggage to the Tunisian border post on February 23, 2011 in Jdir, Tunisia. As fighting continues in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli, thousands of guest workers and Libyans are fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddhafi has vowed to fight to the end. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
JDIR, TUNISIA - FEBRUARY 23: People fleeing Libya carry their luggage to the Tunisian border post on February 23, 2011 in Jdir, Tunisia. As fighting continues in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli, thousands of guest workers and Libyans are fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddhafi has vowed to fight to the end. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
JDIR, TUNISIA - FEBRUARY 23: A woman is given bread and water after crossing the Tunisian border on February 23, 2011 in Jdir, Tunisia. As fighting continues in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli, thousands of guest workers and Libyans are fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to fight to the end. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
JDIR, TUNISIA - FEBRUARY 23: A woman is given bread and water after crossing the Tunisian border on February 23, 2011 in Jdir, Tunisia. As fighting continues in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli, thousands of guest workers and Libyans are fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to fight to the end. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
JDIR, TUNISIA - FEBRUARY 23: A family is given bread and water after crossing the Tunisian border on February 23, 2011 in Jdir, Tunisia. As fighting continues in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli, thousands of guest workers and Libyans are fleeing to Tunisia to escape the violence. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to fight to the end. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Demonstrators protest against Libyian President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside Downing Street in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Tuesday February 22 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Demonstrators protest against Libyian President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside Downing Street in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Tuesday February 22 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Demonstrators protest against Libyian President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside Downing Street in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Tuesday February 22 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Demonstrators protest against Libyian President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside Downing Street in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Tuesday February 22 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Mohab Rahouma, 9, from Manchester joins demonstrators as they protest against Libyian President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside Downing Street in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Tuesday February 22 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
A woman photographs children as demonstrators protest against Libyian President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside Downing Street in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Tuesday February 22 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
A group of men pray as demonstrators protest against Libyian President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside Downing Street in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Tuesday February 22 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Demonstrators protest against Libyian President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside Downing Street in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Tuesday February 22 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
A Palestinian man holds a poster of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi reading in Arabic "May the fascist fall", during a march in solidarity with the people of Libya in the West Bank city of Ramallah,Tuesday, Feb. 22 , 2011. Gadhafi's 42-year rule is under unprecedented pressure from an uprising that is struggling to oust the authoritarian ruler despite a vicious crackdown. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Demonstrators protest against Libyian President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside Downing Street in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Tuesday February 22 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Demonstrators protest against Libyian President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside Downing Street in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Tuesday February 22 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Demonstrators protest against Libyian President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside Downing Street in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Tuesday February 22 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Demonstrators protest against Libyian President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside Downing Street in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Tuesday February 22 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Demonstrators protest against Libyian President Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside Downing Street in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Tuesday February 22 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Muammar Gaddafi in a state broadcast, where he vowed to fight 'to my last drop of blood'
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to die a martyr (AP)
Egyptian army soldiers stand in front of the Libyan embassy entrance, during a demonstration calling for the ouster of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi on Monday, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this footage taken from amateur video, people watch papers falling from a window as a police station burns, in Tobruk, Libya, Monday Feb. 21, 2011. Libya has seen the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country of the wave of protests sweeping the region that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. Since the six days of unrest began, more than 200 people have been killed in Libya, according to medical officials, human rights groups and exiled dissidents. (AP Photo/Amateur Video Accessed via YouTube)
A girl sitting out of a vehicle window celebrates and displays the victory sign in Benghazi, Libya on Monday, Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi on Monday, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (AP Photo/Alaguri)
A Libyan carries away partial remains of a man's body at Al-Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, Libya on Monday, Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi on Monday, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. Writing on placard in arabic reads "Ramzi Al-Hawat," the reason for the name is not known (AP Photo/Alaguri)
Residents and medical personnel at Al-Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, Libya on Monday, Feb. 21, 2011. Writing in arabic reads "Al-Galaa Hospital, Emergency and Paramedic section". Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi on Monday, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (AP Photo/Alaguri)
In this video image broadcast on Libyan state television Saif al-Islam, son of long-time Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, speaks.
File photo dated 29/05/2007 of former Prime Minister Tony Blair meeting Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi at his desert base outside Sirte south of Tripoli

Up to 15,000 men, women and children besieged Tripoli's international airport last night, shouting and screaming for seats on the few airliners still prepared to fly to Muammar Gaddafi's rump state, paying Libyan police bribe after bribe to reach the ticket desks in a rain-soaked mob of hungry, desperate families.

Many were trampled as Libyan security men savagely beat those who pushed their way to the front.

Among them were Gaddafi's fellow Arabs, thousands of them Egyptians, some of whom had been living at the airport for two days without food or sanitation. The place stank of faeces and urine and fear. Yet a 45-minute visit into the city for a new airline ticket to another destination is the only chance to see Gaddafi's capital if you are a "dog" of the international press.



There was little sign of opposition to the Great Leader. Squads of young men with Kalashnikov rifles stood on the side roads next to barricades of upturned chairs and wooden doors. But these were pro-Gaddafi vigilantes – a faint echo of the armed Egyptian "neighbourhood guard" I saw in Cairo a month ago – and had pinned photographs of their leader's infamous Green Book to their checkpoint signs.



There is little food in Tripoli, and over the city there fell a blanket of drab, sullen rain. It guttered onto an empty Green Square and down the Italianate streets of the old capital of Tripolitania. But there were no tanks, no armoured personnel carriers, no soldiers, not a fighter plane in the air; just a few police and elderly men and women walking the pavements – a numbed populous. Sadly for the West and for the people of the free city of Benghazi, Libya's capital appeared as quiet as any dictator would wish.



But this is an illusion. Petrol and food prices have trebled; entire towns outside Tripoli have been torn apart by fighting between pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces. In the suburbs of the city, especially in the Noufreen district, militias fought for 24 hours on Sunday with machine guns and pistols, a battle the Gadaffi forces won. In the end, the exodus of expatriates will do far more than street warfare to bring down the regime.



I was told that at least 30,000 Turks, who make up the bulk of the Libyan construction and engineering industry, have now fled the capital, along with tens of thousands of other foreign workers. On my own aircraft out of Tripoli, an evacuation flight to Europe, there were Polish, German, Japanese and Italian businessmen, all of whom told me they had closed down major companies in the past week. Worse still for Gaddafi, the oil, chemical and uranium fields of Libya lie to the south of "liberated" Benghazi. Gaddafi's hungry capital controls only water resources, so a temporary division of Libya, which may have entered Gaddafi's mind, would not be sustainable. Libyans and expatriates I spoke to yesterday said they thought he was clinically insane, but they expressed more anger at his son, Saif al-Islam. "We thought Saif was the new light, the 'liberal'", a Libyan businessman sad to me. "Now we realise he is crazier and more cruel than his father."



The panic that has now taken hold in what is left of Gaddafi's Libya was all too evident at the airport. In the crush of people fighting for tickets, one man, witnessed by an evacuated Tokyo car-dealer, was beaten so viciously on the head that "his face fell apart".



Talking to Libyans in Tripoli and expatriates at the airport, it is clear that neither tanks nor armour were used in the streets of Tripoli. Air attacks targeted Benghazi and other towns, but not the capital. Yet all spoke of a wave of looting and arson by Libyans who believed that with the fall of Benghazi, Gaddafi was finished and the country open to anarchy.



The centre of the city was largely closed up. All foreign offices have been shut including overseas airlines, and every bakery I saw was shuttered. Rumours abound that members of Gaddafi's family are trying to flee abroad. Although William Hague's ramblings about Gaddafi's flight to Venezuela have been disproved, I spoke to a number of Libyans who believed that Burkina Faso might be his only viable retreat. Two nights ago, a Libyan private jet approached Beirut airport with a request to land but was refused permission when the crew declined to identify their eight passengers. And last night, a Libyan Arab Airlines flight reported by Al Jazeera to be carrying Gaddafi's daughter, Aisha, was refused permission to land in Malta.



Gaddafi is blamed by Shia Muslims in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran for the murder of Imam Moussa Sadr, a supposedly charismatic divine who unwisely accepted an invitation to visit Gaddafi in 1978 and, after an apparent argument about money, was never seen again. Nor was a Lebanese journalist accompanying him on the trip.



While dark humour has never been a strong quality in Libyans, there was one moment at Tripoli airport yesterday which proved it does exist. An incoming passenger from a Libyan Arab Airlines flight at the front of an immigration queue bellowed out: "And long life to our great leader Muammar Gaddafi." Then he burst into laughter – and the immigration officers did the same.



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