Libya Death Toll Over 200 in Protests, May Be Resistance to Death for Muammar Gaddafi

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is confronting the most serious challenge to his rule in 42 years. Government forces have been unleashed onto protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi, where one hospital official put the death toll at 200. Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker takes a look at the scale of the unrest in the country.

Country-wide protests over housing and corruption; major protests started in Benghazi, and moved to other cities; attacks to police stations and official buildings; clashes between protesters and Government supporters; general uprising in Cyrenaica; defection of military units in Benghazi.

The Libyan government has reacted by providing housing, along with repressive and massive violence. Muammar Gaddafi has said that he will go down fighting. “We will all die on Libyan soil,” sources close to his Gaddafi’s family told the Saudi paper al-Sharq al-Awsat.

Libya is facing the worst revolution in 42 years. On September 1, 1969, a small group of military officers led by then 27-year-old army officer Muammar al-Gaddafi staged a coup d’état against King Idris, launching the Libyan Revolution. At the time, King Idris was in Turkey for medical treatment. His nephew, Crown Prince Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Sanussi was exercising regal powers at the time of the revolution as King Idris had sent a signed document indicating his intent to step down as King on September 2, 1969. It was clear however that the revolutionary officers who had announced the deposition of King Idris did not want to appoint Crown Prince Hassan over the instruments of state as King, and so the Crown Prince was never effectively King.

Gaddafi was at the time only a captain and his co-conspirators were all junior officers. Nevertheless the small group seized Libyan military headquarters (due to the sympathies of the stationed men) and the radio broadcasting station with 48 rounds of revolver ammunition. Before the end of September 1, Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida had been formally deposed by the revolutionary army officers and put under house arrest. Meanwhile, revolutionary officers abolished the monarchy, and proclaimed the new Libyan Arab Republic. Gaddafi was referred to as the “Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution” in government statements and the official press.

After popular movements overturned the rulers of its immediate neighbors to the west and east (Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt), Libya experienced a full-scale revolt in February of 2011. Minor incidents have also occurred in Iraq, Kuwait, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.

Libyan forces fired machine-guns at mourners marching in a funeral for anti-government protesters in Benghazi. The crackdown is shaping up to be the most brutal repression of protests that began with uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.