Fears of a humanitarian crisis in Libya are growing amidst escalating violence between rebels and forces loyal to the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Anti-government groups have seized control of more areas as they close in on the capital city, Tripoli. On Sunday, protesters claimed the town of Zawiyah, just 30 miles from the capital. As residents celebrated, one demonstrator called for Gaddafi’s prosecution for ordering attacks on protesters.
Protester: “It’s time for him to be in (front of) justice. We need justice, because we have people has been killed, several people. Can you imagine somebody open his chest to pick out bullets? And the coward, he shoot the guy, and that’s my nephew, and he is [dead] there.”
Estimates of the death toll so far have reached as high as 2,000 people. The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have fled Libya to neighboring Egypt and Tunisia in what it calls a “humanitarian emergency.” Egyptian nationals are said to account for over half the total. A Red Cross spokesperson said Libya’s refugee problem is approaching a crisis.
Unidentified: “We are very worried and alarmed about the humanitarian situation as people cross over the border. We are now mobilizing resources as we speak, internationally and through our regional office here in Tunis, sending personnel.”
The Gaddafi regime has desperately tried to control the information coming out of Libya. Foreign journalists have been brought into Tripoli, but only under government escort. On Friday, one of Gaddfi’s sons, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, denied the widespread violence.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi: “Now, everything is calm, and Tripoli is safe. Today, in the whole of Libya, no casualties, no attacks. Everything is peaceful, so today everybody is happy. So peace is coming back to our country.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Geneva today for a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council on the Libya crisis. The meeting comes after the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a measure imposing sanctions on the Gaddafi regime.
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice: “We are pleased to have supported this entire resolution in all of its measures, including the referral to the ICC. We were happy to have the opportunity to co-sponsor this, and we think that it is a very powerful message to the leadership of Libya that this heinous killing must stop and that individuals will be held personally responsible.”
Over 100,000 people rallied in Madison on Saturday against Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to remove the collective bargaining rights of most public-sector workers. It was the largest demonstration Madison has seen since the Vietnam War. Tens of thousands of people marched in solidarity protests nationwide. In New York City, thousands gathered for a “Save the American Dream” rally outside City Hall. Crowds drawing several thousand were also reported in cities including Chicago, Columbus, Los Angeles and Denver. In Wisconsin, hundreds of demonstrators defied police orders and slept inside the State Capitol building Sunday night in defiance of Walker’s order to leave. Capitol police decided not to enforce Walker’s edict after hundreds of labor activists, students and supporters insisted on staying put.
Public school teachers in Providence, Rhode Island, have been warned they could lose their jobs this year. The Providence School Board issued the work alert last week, citing a multi-million-dollar budget shortfall. Nearly 2,000 teachers have been told they could be fired.
President Obama is hosting a meeting of the nation’s governors at the White House today amidst a contentious debate over the squeezing of workers’ rights and social services in the name of reducing deficits. At a gathering of the National Governors Association over the weekend, Democratic and Republican leaders agreed to form a committee to explore ways to amend Medicaid. The panel will look at how states can change eligibility rules and other provisions of the insurance program for low-income Americans. Republicans have called for converting Medicaid from an entitlement program to a block grant, similar to how Republicans and former President Bill Clinton altered welfare programs in the 1990s. Among the strongest advocates for that route is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has just been named the new chair of the National Governors Association’s health and human services panel.
Afghanistan is facing what is being described as its deadliest period for civilians since the U.S.-led invasion began more than nine years ago. According to Afghan officials, more than 200 Afghans have been killed in attacks and military operations of the past two weeks. An Afghan government panel is still investigating claims some 65 people were killed in a U.S.-led attack last week. On Saturday, a government adviser and investigator said that 40 of the dead were children.
Egypt’s top prosecutor has issued a travel ban on former President Hosni Mubarak and his family. Mubarak is believed to remain in Egypt following his ouster earlier this month. But rumors have swirled he will attempt to flee abroad to avoid prosecution for corruption and human rights abuse under his three-decade rule. Large crowds have returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square for a series of protests. On Friday and Saturday, tens of thousands rallied in Tahrir to mark one month since the uprising began and to urge the firing of Mubarak appointees in the Egyptian cabinet. The Egyptian military cracked down on the demonstration, in some instances beating and tasering protesters.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut were in Egypt this weekend as the first visiting congressional delegation since Mubarak’s ouster. McCain and Lieberman met with officials in Egypt’s transitional government and even took a walk through Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the focal point of the uprising. At a news conference, McCain had warm words for the Egyptian revolution.
Sen. John McCain: “This revolution is a repudiation of al-Qaeda. This revolution has shown the people of the world, not just in the Arab world, that peaceful change can come about and violence and extremism is not required in order to achieve democracy and freedom. That’s why we are especially proud to be here, where history is being made for the entire world, not just the Arab world.”
McCain’s comments appear to differ from his stance during the height of the Egyptian uprising. Speaking on Fox News just days before Mubarak was forced to resign, McCain described the popular movements in the Arab world as a “virus.”
Sen. John McCain: “This virus is spreading throughout the Middle East. The president of Yemen, as you know, just made the announcement that he wasn’t running again. This, I would argue, is probably the most dangerous period of history in—of our entire involvement in the Middle East, at least in modern times.”
Protests meanwhile are continuing across the Middle East. In Bahrain, thousands continue to flood the streets of the capital city of Manama. On Sunday, demonstrators marched to a central court building in their deepest foray into the city so far. The protests come as leading Bahraini Shiite opposition leader Hassan Mushaima has returned from exile. Mushaima was allowed to return after the protests forced the Bahraini monarchy to issue royal pardons.
Hassan Mushaima: “Promising is not enough. We have to see something on the ground. Just by talking — because different times, they promised before, but they did not do anything for the nation of Bahrain.”
Thousands of Tunisians have taken to the streets in celebration following the resignation of Interim Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. A holdover from the regime of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Ghannouchi has faced constant protest since taking the helm following Ben Ali’s departure. At least three people were killed and more than 100 wounded in clashes on Saturday.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is expected to declare a new “unity government” today amidst ongoing protests. Tens of thousands have gathered in various cities to demonstrate against Saleh’s 32-year rule. Opposition leaders are expected to reject Saleh’s offer, which critics see as a last ditch effort to retain power.
The wave of protest has now spread to Oman. On Sunday, up to six people were reportedly killed when government forces fired on protesters demanding political reform. Protesters set government buildings ablaze and launched a sit-in demonstration in the city of Sohar. Sultan Qaboos bin Said has ruled Oman since 1970.
The 83rd annual Academy Awards were held last night in Los Angeles. The film Inside Job, about the nation’s financial crisis, was awarded best documentary. In his acceptance speech, Director Charles Ferguson drew applause after calling for the jailing of financial executives.
Charles Ferguson: “Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail—and that’s wrong.”