By Suzanne Presto
Reports coming out of Libya indicate government-sanctioned violence against protesters is intensifying during a widening revolt. The international community has denounced the violence, while Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has threatened death for anyone who takes up arms against him.
Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters in Rome Wednesday that there are credible reports that about 1,000 people have been killed in Libya.
There are reports that anti-government protesters have gained control of some Libyan cities, such as Bayda and Benghazi. Frattini says he has heard this is the case in parts of eastern Libya, though he notes that information from the region is far from complete.
“But as far as I know from our embassy, the province of east Cyrenaica is lost to the control of the government of Tripoli while in the other areas there are, I would say, riots, there are people shooting, it is a difficult situation. And unfortunately what we want is that the government ceases immediately the violence,” Frattini said.
The Arab League, the United Nations, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others have urgently called for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to show restraint.
Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S., told reporters late Tuesday that he would be very surprised if Gadhafi manages to hold on to power.
He said Libya’s strongman only has the allegiance of a part of the army, which Abrams said is weak and fractured.
“The army has been disorganized in Libya for a long time, I think, partially because Gadhafi came to power in a coup and doesn’t want a coup to repeat itself against him,” Abrams said. “So the army is already weak, and the army is already split along geographical and tribal lines.”
In a rambling speech Tuesday, Gadhafi vowed to battle on, and he called on his supporters to fight those who challenge his more than four-decade rule.
Anti-government protests also continue elsewhere in the region.
Video from Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, shows pro-government groups firing upon pro-reform protesters outside Sana’a University Tuesday night. At least one person was reported killed and 38 others injured in the clashes.
New York-based Human Rights Watch says witnesses report that Yemeni police allowed the government-allied demonstrators to attack the protesters outside the university.
Activists in Yemen have staged daily protests since February 11 to call for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In Bahrain, where reform-seeking demonstrators have also mounted rallies, the Sunni monarchy is making concessions to the protesters.
Cheers erupted Wednesday when authorities released some activists who had been detained in recent demonstrations. More than 20 Shi’ites who were accused of trying to topple the Sunni-led government were also freed. In another concession, the monarchy is allowing activists to hold peaceful protests. More than 100,000 people marched in the capital, Manama on Tuesday.