The Libyan regime has launched a new assault on the opposition amidst growing international pressure. Forces loyal to Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi tried to retake the rebel-controlled towns of Zawiyah and the eastern city of Misurata overnight, but both attacks appear to have been repelled. Libyan fighter jets have reportedly bombed Zawiyah, and Gaddafi is said to have personally threatened more strikes unless rebels flee. In an interview with Western journalists Monday, Gaddafi again denied the massive uprising against his rule and continued to claim rebels seeking his ouster were drugged by al-Qaeda.
Muammar Gaddafi: “They are not against us. No one is against us. Against us for what? Because I’m not a president. They love me. All my people are with me, they love me all. They will die to protect me, my people.”
Christiane Amanpour: “If you say they do love you, then why are they capturing Benghazi and saying they’re against you?”
Muammar Gaddafi: “It’s al-Qaeda. It’s not my people. They came from outside.”
Jeremy Bowen: “So they’re the people pulling down the posters and putting up the flag of the king?”
Muammar Gaddafi: “It’s al-Qaeda. They went into military bases and seized arms, and they’re terrorizing the people. The people who had the weapons were youngsters. They’re starting to lay down their weapons now, as the drugs al-Qaeda gave them wear off.”
The United Nations says around 100,000 people have fled Libya to neighboring Egypt and Tunisia. The U.N.’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, voiced alarm at reports of ongoing attacks on civilians.
Valerie Amos: “I’m very concerned by the alarming reports of continued violence in the country. There are reports that civilians, including women and children, have been wounded and gravely injured. While there are no confirmed numbers of deaths and wounded, estimates range from hundreds to thousands.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has cracked down on protesters in the state’s Capitol building while issuing a new ultimatum to Democratic lawmakers. On Monday, demonstrators were barred from re-entering the Capitol, the site of 24-hour protests over the past week. Thousands of people have demonstrated and slept inside the building since Walker unveiled his plan to remove the collective bargaining rights of public workers. The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has protested the move, calling the barring of protesters during business hours unconstitutional. The Wisconsin State Employees Union and the Wisconsin Employer Relations Commission also filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Walker yesterday, alleging he failed to negotiate in good faith. While the Capitol building remained in lockdown, Walker issued another statement threatening to send layoff notices to 1,500 state workers unless Wisconsin Senate Democrats return to vote.
The standoff in Wisconsin has extended to other Midwestern states. Ohio lawmakers are expected to vote on a measure that would strip collective bargaining for state employees as early as Wednesday. In Indiana, Democratic lawmakers are vowing to remain in neighboring Illinois to prevent a similar measure from passing the state chamber. Mirroring their Wisconsin counterparts, Indiana Democrats have fled to Illinois to deny Republicans quorum.
The White House has voiced increasing support for embattled public workers as protests have grown. Addressing the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C., President Obama said unions are being “denigrated and vilified.”
President Obama: “So I believe that everybody should be prepared to give up something in order to solve our budget challenges, and I think most public servants agree with that. Democrats and Republicans agree with that. In fact, many public employees in your respective states have already agreed to cuts. But let me also say this: I don’t think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified, or their rights are infringed upon.”
Obama’s comments come as new polls shows growing support for the workers in Wisconsin and nationwide. According to the New York Times and CBS News, Americans oppose curbs on public employees’ collective bargaining rights by a margin of 60 to 33 percent. A majority of both Republican and Democratic respondents said public employees are currently paid appropriately or not enough, a rebuke of ongoing attempts to slash their salaries and benefits. A new poll in Wisconsin meanwhile shows Gov. Scott Walker would not be elected if the 2010 gubernatorial race were held again today. According to Public Policy Polling, 52 percent of Wisconsin voters say they would vote for Walker’s opponent if they could re-do the election.
A new independent report estimates latest Republican plan to slash government spending would cost the United States 700,000 jobs by 2012. House Republicans approved a measure to cut federal spending by $61 billion last month, setting up a standoff with President Obama and congressional Democrats and a potential government shutdown.
An environmental activist has gone on trial in Utah for preventing a mass sell-off of public wilderness in 2008. Tim DeChristopher is charged with interfering with a public auction for disrupting the Bush administration’s last-minute move to auction off oil and gas exploitation rights on vast swaths of federal land. DeChristopher was arrested after he posed as a bidder and bought 22,000 acres of land in an attempt to save the property from drilling. He could face up to 10 years in prison and a $750,000 fine. On Monday, hundreds of supporters marched to Salt Lake City’s federal courthouse.
Protester: “I think that it’s a very clear act of intimidation on their part. What Tim [DeChristopher] did was very, very out of character for not only national politics but definitely Utah politics, and I think that it scared people. I think that it made the structures that are in power feel like people might get an idea that they have a voice in these things and we really, really could change things. We are here as peaceful uprisers to tell the world that we do believe in what Tim did and we do believe that we have a voice and we can change things.”
The security chief at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in in West Virginia has been arrested on charges of trying to block a federal probe of the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners. Hughie Elbert Stover is accused of lying to a FBI agent and a federal inspector, as well as ordering an employee to dispose of thousands of security documents from the mine more than nine months after the fatal blast. Stover could face five years in prison for lying to the FBI and 20 years for obstructing justice.
The federal government has awarded its first permit for deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico since lifting a moratorium last year. Noble Energy is the first new firm authorized to drill for oil since a ban imposed in the aftermath of the BP spill.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has launched a five-city protest to demand humane working conditions for farmworkers harvesting tomatoes sold inside the stores of major supermarket chains. More than 1,000 people marched on the grocery giant Stop and Shop in Boston Sunday to kick off the campaign.
Protester: “We are here today in the city of Boston focusing on our campaign for fair food that we have been waging for the past 15 years against the companies that purchase the tomatoes. Up until today, we have had nine corporations agree to work with us. This is what we are doing here, and in this march we are focused on Stop and Shop and Giant and other supermarkets. We want that they take responsibility and work with us to improve the working conditions that exist for us, the workers in Immokalee, and that Stop and Shop and the others come to the table to meet with us. For us as workers, this would also signify better wages.”
The tour continues in New York City, Baltimore and Atlanta before concluding in the Immokalee Workers’ home state of Florida.
Pro-democracy protests are growing in the Persian Gulf country of Oman. On Monday, rallies spread to the capital of Muscat while demonstrators blocked roads and continued to occupy a central square in the port city of Sohar. Omani forces have been deployed to the protest areas. Sultan Qaboos bin Said has ruled Oman since 1970.
The Iraqi government is facing criticism for a crackdown on nationwide protests. At least 29 people are dead after clashes between Iraqi government forces and protesters over the weekend. In what has been described as an effort to intimidate dissenting intellectuals, around 300 people, including prominent journalists, artists and lawyers, were arrested following nationwide protests Friday. Some of the detained claimed to have been handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and threatened with execution.