Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader for more than 40 years, was never well-liked in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, where very little of the county’s oil wealth has been felt. But fear of Gaddafi has always kept the population there docile, that is, until the general unrest which has been spreading throughout the Arab Middle East finally reached the shores of Libya, and especially Benghazi.
Benghazi is 620 miles east of Tripoli, the nation’s capital, situated on the Mediterranean Ocean. Last Tuesday protests in the city began, but not until the weekend did tensions and violence really mount when security forces began attacking the protesters from behind their high-walled fortified compounds. Bloody clashes continued to escalate as mourners, accompanying the victims of the government attacks, were themselves fired upon as they walked past the city’s barracks. Protestors returned fire with rocks and Molotov cocktails, but aside from those feeble weapons, were unarmed.
Doctors and other eyewitnesses are claiming that so far at least 200 unarmed demonstrators have been killed by large-caliber automatic weapons. Most protesters believe that the people will respond with outrage, and will fearlessly take to the streets as a reaction to the brutal force shown by the government, the opposite affect Gaddafi was probably aiming for. Some people there have describe Benghazi has having turned into a ‘war zone.’ Some local residents have formed vigilante groups to protect neighborhoods from the government’s brutality.
Despite the violence in Benghazi, many there believe no change can come to Libya as a whole unless the protests spread to Tripoli, which has in effect begun to happen. Dozens of lawyers staged a ‘sit-in’ by the court buildings to demonstrate against Gaddafi’s regime. The sound of guns were reported in two suburbs of Tripoli, Fachlum and Tajura; protesters gathered in the working class area of Gourghi in the western part of Tripoli; and Libyan forces have used teargas and live bullets to send the crowds of demonstrators home. According to reports from Al-Jazeera thousands of protesters and Gaddafi supporters came head to head in Tripoli’s Green Square. One eye witness told reporters that, “We haven’t had such disturbances before.”
Meanwhile the violence in Libya has caused oil prices to rise considerably. The violence that has swept across the Mideast has paralyzed the financial markets in the region.