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Massacre in Libya: Witnesses Say Protesters Have Taken Control of Benghazi Despite Gov’t Violence

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After a week of deadly unrest in the North African country of Libya, tens of thousands of people celebrated Sunday as they retook the streets of the eastern city of Benghazi. Residents say some soldiers joined the protesters and defeated a force of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s elite guard. Others say the military has left the city. This comes after days of brutal violence. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 300 people have been killed in Libya this week. Clashes have reportedly reached the capital city of Tripoli. For more on the situation in Benghazi, we spoke by phone to a protester named Haithem last night.[includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: After a week of protest in the North African country of Libya, tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the streets in the eastern city of Benghazi yesterday, appeared to be in control of most of the city. Residents said some soldiers had joined the protesters and defeated a force of Colonel Gaddafi’s elite guard. Others said the military had left the city. This comes after days of brutal violence. According to Human Rights Watch, over 300 people have been killed in Libya this week. Meanwhile, clashes have reportedly reached the capital city of Tripoli.

While Benghazi is off-limits to foreign journalists, accounts that have leaked out over the weekend indicate a violent and indiscriminate response on the part of the regime. Eyewitness accounts from Benghazi described the violent repression there as a “massacre.” Machine guns, large-caliber weapons were reportedly used against crowds by military forces, sometimes shooting from rooftops or helicopters. Doctors reached at the main hospital in Benghazi have said that many people were shot in the head, in the eye, the neck or chest, indicating an intent to shoot to kill.

Well, last night, one of Colonel Gaddafi’s sons, Saif Islam Gaddafi, spoke to his country on Libyan State TV. The long, rambling address was probably pre-recorded and broadcast well after midnight in Libya. While he acknowledged security forces had made some mistakes in recent days, he said, quote, “We will keep fighting until the last man standing, even to the last woman standing.” In his comments, Gaddafi blamed the unrest on foreigners, Islamists and criminals. He also warned of chaos and civil war if protests continue and said instead the people and the regime should “create a new Libya.”

SAIF AL-ISLAM GADDAFI: [translated] Tomorrow we can save the bloodshed, and that will be the biggest historic achievement, when we move from the first regime to the second regime. Forget about the first regime, and then we start a new system that we will agree on. Tomorrow we will create a new Libya, the Libya of tomorrow that we all agree on. Otherwise, be ready that we Libyans will be entering into confrontations, and we will be fighting each other and be divided. Forget about oil, forget about gas. We will go into disarray. We will go into chaos.”

AMY GOODMAN: At this point, it’s unclear whether Gaddafi and his family remain in the country. But for the latest on the ground from Libya, we’re joined on the line by a man who calls himself Haithem, a demonstrator in the city of Benghazi who we reached last night.

HAITHEM: The situation in Benghazi is the military is just gone and after really a brutal fight with the protester, but finally we win that. And some of them, they run away. Some of them, they’re still in the airport in Benghazi. That’s it. So, Benghazi now, they under control. They left it. The security of Gaddafi’s son, because he — two days ago, he was in Benghazi, trying to do — solve a problem, but he didn’t do nothing, as usual. So he run away, and his security guards, they run away, as well. Now, Benghazi is under control by protester.

There is two kinds of military, because in Libya the military doesn’t exist since 1969, when Gaddafi arrive, because Gaddafi knows all the military do revolution. So now he just have some military which is just for his security. So now that the military which is under — is for security for him, now they just, more of them, they run away, and more — some of them, they just join the protesters, and that’s it.

But it takes a lot of people died. Just for yesterday, they killed 200 person from the protester, because the problem is, Mr. Obama, he spoke about four person died in Bahrain, but in Libya, in one day they died 200 person, but nobody talk about it, because what we hear now from Tripoli, some eyewitnesses who live there, they say there’s a dispute between Gaddafi son in Azizia. And we hear that Saif, he has been shot by his son — by his brother, Mu’tasim. The aim is one. All the people join the same aim. They want Gaddafi and his sons just to go away. We want democracy. He has been here for 42 years. It’s enough.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Haithem, a Libyan protester in the eastern city of Benghazi, speaking to Democracy Now! on Sunday night.

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