Libya: Gaddafi Rails Against 'No Fly' Attacks and Berbers

20 March 2011

In a lengthy, rambling address on his Libyan state television Sunday, Muammar al-Gaddafi vowed to fight against the foreign "devils" who overnight bombed Libyan military installations. British officials say the attacks focused on Gaddafi air defense systems.

The attack by what Gaddafi called "imperial" aggressors will provoke a "worldwide, popular revolution", he said. "Even women," he exclaimed, "will go out and fight". He said he has opened the nation's arsenals to the population, so they can defend themselves against foreign assaults.

Acting under United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, passed 17 March after lengthy negotiations, an international coalition attacked targets in a no-fly zone, mostly along the Libyan coast. French warplanes were the first to cross into Libyan airspace.

United States submarines and British submarines and aircraft fired over 100 missiles at Libyan targets. Denmark, Canada and Spain have sent aircraft ready for action to a U.S. navel air station in Sicily. More than two dozen naval vessels from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy and France have moved into the area.

Gaddafi compared the coalition forces to "backwards Berbers." In the past, Gaddafi has denied the existence of indigenous Berbers as an ethnicity alongside the now-dominant population of Arab origin, although communities of Berbers still live in areas west and southwest of the capitol Tripoli.

Estimates put the Berber population of Libya at 25,000 to 150,000.  According to a 2008 U.S. embassy document recently released by Wikileaks, efforts of diplomats to visit Berber areas or to discuss Libya's Berber heritage were met with charges of "unacceptable interference" in Libyan affairs, as well as with a ban on travel to the Berber town of Zuwara by embassy personnel.

Across the eastern city of Benghazi, which has been run by an opposition committee since the current uprising took shape on 17 February, relief at the air intervention was mingled at anger that it had come so late. Nearly 100 people are estimated to have been killed, with many more injured, by pro-Gaddafi forces that attacked the city for several hours Saturday.

Many Benghazi residents speaking to international news organizations expressed continuing worry that the ground advances of Gaddafi forces would continue against the poorly armed pro-democracy forces who had forced the regime's military out of town after town over the past month. Reports Sunday recounted battles in areas where Gaddafi loyalists had fled, including the town of Misrata.

A statue in Tripoli crushing a jet airplane was displayed on the screen of state television while Gaddafi spoke. There was no video of Gaddafi, who claimed that the international attacks left large numbers of civilians dead.

On 12 March, the Arab League voted to ask the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians - a move that encouraged Security Council action five days later. African members of the council - Gabon, Nigeria and South Africa - supported the UN vote.

On Saturday the African Union's High-Level Ad-Hoc Committee on Libya called for an " the immediate cessation of all hostilities". The panel asked Libyan authorities to insure "to facilitate the diligent delivery of humanitarian assistance" as well as to protect foreign national, including African migrant worker in Libya.

Presidents of Mauritania, Mali and Congo attended the committee meeting, with South Africa and Uganda sending ministerial representatives. The committee had planned to fly to Libya today to meet with the parties but said permission to fly into Libya had been denied

2008 U.S. embassy document recently released by Wikileaks.

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