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Continued Middle East Protests and Violence

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Continued Middle East Uprisings and Violence - by Stephen Lendman

What began in Tunisia spread to Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Bahrain, and now Libya, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The entire region is erupting in protests, mischaracterized as revolutions. They're not, falling far short convulsive, violent, unstoppable tsunamis for change, removing old orders for new ones. So far, they're absent in the region, not even close despite popular passion for change. More on that below.

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On February 20, Al Jazeera said Libya protesters want Gaddafi's 42-year rule ended. He's violently suppressing popular anger to prevent it. On Sunday night, one of his sons, Saif El Islam, warned of civil war on state television, saying "we are not Tunisia and Egypt," then gave notice about a "fight to the last minute, until the last bullet." Attempting to diffuse popular anger, however, he offered new media laws, an amended constitution, changes in the penal code, other unspecified reforms, and, unrelated to street anger, a new national anthem and flag.

On Sunday, Warfala tribal leaders, representing 500,000 Tuareg people, said they're joining the anti-Gaddafi struggle. Al Jazeera reported they've been attacking government buildings and police stations. The common thread throughout the region is poverty, unemployment, corruption and repression, varying only by degree from one country to another.

Precise numbers aren't known, but some accounts say hundreds have been killed since violence erupted a week ago. As a result, divisions in Gaddafi's government got two diplomats to resign - Libya's China ambassador, Hussein Sadiq al Musrati, and Arab League representative Abdel-Monem al-Houni. Other reports say members of Libya's military have joined protesters, and army weapons and vehicles have been seized.

"Residents (said) at least at least 200 had died in Benghazi alone....Protests have also reportedly broken out in Bayda, Dema, Tobruk and Misrata. In the capital, Tripoli, government supporters and security forces prevented spreading anti-government demonstrations. On February 21, however, heavy gunfire was reported in central Tripoli. 

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Unconfirmed accounts say protesters attacked the headquarters of Al-Jamahiriya Two television and Al-Shababia, as well as other government buildings overnight. In addition, again unconfirmed, the government-owned People's Conference Center (where parliament meets) was set afire. Details are mostly sketchy but suggest intense anti-government protests spreading.

One witness called Benghazi a "war zone." A doctor, Mariam, said military forces used live fire against protesters, adding even the hospital is unsafe. Another doctor said bodies were piling up, and numerous people were being treated for bullet wounds. They've been coming in waves. Many have serious injuries, including to heads, chests, and abdomens from high-velocity rifle fire.

At the same time, dozens of Muslim leaders issued an "urgent appeal from religious scholars, intellectuals, and clan elders from numerous cities, towns and villages" against further violence. A Benghazi businessman called events there: 

"big, a big massacre. We've never heard of anything like this before. It's horrible. The shooting is still taking place right now. We're about three kilometers away from it, and we saw this morning army troops coming into the city. You can hear shooting now. They don't care about us."

Mohamed Abdulmalek, Libya Watch chairman, a human rights group, said:

"The security presence in Tripoli, for example, was so intense that people gathered individually in the beginning....But eventually, the pressure on the capital started from outside (the city) and now you see the people revolting. We have no doubt that the east and the west (of the country) will unite."

On February 21, Al Jazeera said witnesses "reported that some cities, especially in the east, which is perceived as less loyal to (Gaddafi), have fallen completely into the hands of civilians and protesters."

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Because of government control, reporting is restricted. Al Jazeera's signal is blocked. So are others, including most Internet service. So far, telephones are working, and some Tripoli Internet access was available. Issues are similar to elsewhere, including poverty with "two-thirds of (Libya's) 6.5 million population liv(ing) on less than $2 a day." People want some of Libya's oil wealth used for them. So do others in oil rich regional states.

Tunisian Protests

On February 18, The New York Times said Tunisian protests continued outside various government ministries in Tunis, demanding resignation of interim government officials and release of imprisoned family members. On February 20, Reuters headlined, "Troops fire in air at Tunis protests," saying:

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I was born in 1934, am a retired, progressive small businessman concerned about all the major national and world issues, committed to speak out and write about them.

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