In Libya, Protests Become Civil War as Gaddafi Reportedly Orders Loyal Military Units to Fire on Their Own Comrades

Things are moving fast in Libya, where what began as a protest movement appears now to be heading toward a civil war.

According to reports, Libyan consular staff in  ChinaIndia, the U.K., Indonesia, Bangladesh, Poland and at the Arab League have all resigned over the government's brutal crackdown on protesters. According to reports via Twitter, yet unconfirmed, the Libyan embassy in London has lowered the national flag and is flying the protesters' banner. The regime is becoming cut off from the outside world.

Protesters are reportedly "in control" of Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city.

Al Jazeera English reports on the regime's violent response to the unrest:

Dozens have been reported dead after more violence hit the Libyan capital as angry protests against embattled leader Muammar Gaddafi's 40-year rule escalate across the country.

At least 61 people were killed in clashes in Tripoli on Monday, witnesses told Al Jazeera. The protests appeared to be gathering momentum, with demonstrators saying they had taken control of several key towns in the country, including the city of Benghazi.

Another huge march under way in Tripoli on Monday afternoon was reportedly under attack by security forces using military planes and live ammunition to fire on protesters, sources told Al Jazeera.

Ahmed Elgazir, a human rights researcher at the Libyan News Centre (LNC) also told Al Jazeera that security forces were "massacring" protesters in Tripoli.

Elgazir said the LNC, based in Geneva, Switzerland, received a call for help from a woman "witnessing the massacre in progress who called on a satellite phone". 

Libyan authorities have cut all landline and wireless communication in the country, making it impossible to verify the information.

Reuters reported earlier that rumors are swirling that Gaddafi has fled the country, and was reportedly headed toward Venezuela, a claim the Venezuelan government promptly denied. 

Meanwhile, Stratfor reports that Libyan fighter planes have been ordered to fire on military units within the country.

[An] important question is whether these signs reflect a split within the regime and Gadhafi using military force to crush opposition to his regime emerging from the military or other security forces. Similar reports of the Libyan navy firing on targets onshore also are emerging, as well as reports that Gadhafi has given execution orders to soldiers who have refused to fire on Libyan protesters.

The application of conventional weaponry is noteworthy and will warrant scrutiny — particularly in terms of the targets of the attacks and the rationale behind them. The use of these weapons is more appropriate for other armed entities rather than unarmed protesters. Libyan troops are good at instilling fear, but not good at stabilizing a situation, so the military may not be able to get in on the ground due to lost capability.

The situation remains opaque, but these latest developments combined with recent reports of defections of military units to the demonstrators’ side continue to draw STRATFOR’s attention to the possibility that the regime is fracturing. 

Al Jazeera reports that two Libyan colonels defected in their fighter jets and are seeking asylum Italy. The two say they chose to leave after being ordered to shoot protesters. They are reportedly sharing intelligence with intelligence agencies.

Below, Sarah Seltzer's got a roundup of events unfolding across the Middle East and North Africa.

AlterNet / By Joshua Holland

Posted at February 21, 2011, 7:40am

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