|Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is confronting the most serious challenge to his rule in 42 years [Al Jazeera]|
A son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has promised a programme of reforms after bloody protests against his father’s rule reached the capital, Tripoli.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi also hit out at those behind the violence. He said protests against his father’s rule, which have been concentrated in the east of the country, threatened to sink Libya into civil war and split the country up into several small states.
Appearing on Libyan state television early on Monday morning, Seif al-Islam said his father is in the country and backed by the army. “We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet.”
He said his father was leading the fight, although he added that some military bases, tanks and weapons had been seized.
“We are not Tunisia and Egypt,” the younger Gaddafi said, referring to the successful uprisings that toppled longtime regimes in Libya’s neighbours
He acknowledged that the army made mistakes during protests because it was not trained to deal with demonstrators but added that the number of dead had been exaggerated, giving a death toll of 14 in Tripoli and 84 in Benghazi.
Human Rights Watch put the number at 174 through Saturday, and doctors in the eastern city of Benghazi said more than 200 have died since the protests began.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior analyst, termed Seif al-Islam’s speech as “desperate”.
“It sounded like a desperate speech by a desperate son of a dictator who’s trying to use blackmail on the Libyan people by threatening that he could turn the country into a bloodbath.
“That is very dangerous coming from someone who doesn’t even hold an official role in Libya – so in so many ways, this could be the beginning of a nightmare scenario for Libya if a despotic leader puts his son on air in order to warn his people of a bloodbath if they don’t listen to the orders or the dictates of a dictators.”
“It’s also fascinating how he threatened the West with chaos in Libya and then threatened Libyans with Western intervention, because as he put it, that would turn Libya into a decentralised country allowing various Islamist groups to take over which the West would not allow,” Marwan Bishara said.
The younger Gaddafi offered to put forward reforms within days that he described as a “historic national initiative” and said the regime was willing to remove some restrictions and begin discussions for a constitution. He offered to change a number of laws, including those covering the media and the penal code.
He said the General People’s Congress, Libya’s equivalent of a parliament, would convene on Monday to discuss a “clear” reform agenda, while the government would also raise wages.
In her reaction to Seif al-Islam’s speech, Najla Abdurahman, a Libyan dissident, said “he’s threatening Libya and trying to play up on their fears. I don’t think anyone in Libya who isn’t close to the Gaddafi regime would buy anything he said.
“And even if there is any truth to what he said, I don’t think it’s any better than what the people of Libya have already been living with for the past 40 years.”
“He promised that the country would spiral into civil war for the next 30 to 40 years, that the country’s infrastructure would be ruined, hospitals and schools would no longer be functioning – but schools are already terrible, hospitals are already in bad condition,” Abdurahman told Al Jazeera.
Protesters ‘shot dead’
Saif al-Islam’s address followed reports that security forces had shot dead scores of protesters in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, where residents said a military unit had joined their cause.
There were also reports of clashes between anti-government protesters and Gaddafi supporters around the Green Square.
“We are in Tripoli, there are chants [directed at Gaddafi]: ‘Where are you? Where are you? Come out if you’re a man,” a protester told Al Jazeera on phone.
A resident told the Reuters news agency that he could hear gunshots in the streets and crowds of people.
“We’re inside the house and the lights are out. There are gunshots in the street,” the resident said by phone. “That’s what I hear, gunshots and people. I can’t go outside.”
An expatriate worker living in the Libyan capital told Reuters: “Some anti-government demonstrators are gathering in the residential complexes. The police are dispersing them. I can also see burning cars.”
There were also reports of protesters heading to Gaddafi’s compound in the city of Al-Zawia near Tripoli, with the intention of burning the building down.
Meanwhile the head of the al-Zuwayya tribe in eastern Libya has threatened to cut off oil exports unless authorities stop what he called the “oppression of protesters”, the Warfala tribe, one of Libya’s biggest, has reportedly joined the anti-Gaddafi protests.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Shaikh Faraj al Zuway said: “We will stop oil exports to Western countries within 24 hours” if the violence did not stop. The tribe lives south of Benghazi, which has seen the worst of the deadly violence in recent days.
Akram Al-Warfalli, a leading figure in the Al Warfalla tribe, one of Libya’s biggest, told the network: “We tell the brother (Gaddafi), well he’s no longer a brother, we tell him to leave the country.” The tribe lives south of Tripoli.
Protests have also reportedly broken out in other cities, including Bayda, Derna, Tobruk and Misrata – and anti-Gaddafi graffiti adorns the walls of several cities.
Anti-government protesters in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi have reportedly seized army vehicles and weapons amid worsening turmoil in the African nation.
A local witness said that a section of the troops had joined the protesters on Sunday as chaos swept the streets of the city, worst hit by the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year old rule.
Mohamed, a doctor from al-Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, confirmed to Al Jazeera that members of the military had sided with the protesters.
“We are still receiving serious injuries, I can confirm 13 deaths in our hospital. However, the good news is that people are cheering and celebrating outside after receiving news that the army is siding with the people,” he said.
“But there is still a brigade that is against the demonstrators. For the past three days demonstrators have been shot at by this brigade, called Al-Sibyl brigade.”
The witness reports came on a day in which local residents told Al Jazeera that at least 200 people had died in days of unrest in Benghazi alone. The New York-based Human Rights Watch on Sunday put the countrywide death toll at 173. The rights group said its figure was “conservative”.