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For better or for worse? Libya plagued with violence, instability one year after Gaddafi

Published time: October 23, 2012 16:40
Edited time: October 24, 2012 02:57

Pro-government forces prepare their ammunition on October 21, 2012, some three kilometers from the northern entrance to the Bani Walid, one of the final bastions of Moamer Kadhafi's regime. Clashes on October 20, between pro-government forces and fighters described by authorities as criminals and loyalists of Kadhafi's ousted regime killed at least 26 people and wounded more than 200, according to an AFP tally.(AFP Photo / Mahmud Turkia)

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One year after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, brutal violence is still commonplace in Libya. Political instability, the reported torture of Gaddafi loyalists, and the violent siege of Bani Walid have sparked fears of civil war throughout the country.

Bani Walid, known as the last bastion of Colonel Gaddafi’s supporters, has been under siege for 19 days – with seemingly no end in sight.

Pro-government militias are encircling the town, and some residents have reported forces blasting the area with gas-filled bombs, although the claims are hard to verify given the current situation there.

What can be verified is that government militias are shelling indiscriminately, with footage from Bani Walid showing the carnage of dead bodies, as well as women and children with missing limbs and half their faces blown off.

The town’s electric and gas supplies have been cut off, and civilians have been forced to flee their homes. Shortages of water, food, and medical supplies have also been reported.

The siege was prompted by troops seeking to arrest those responsible for the death of Omran Shaaban – the man who is credited with capturing Gaddafi last year.

The violence has triggered massive protests. Around 200 residents have tried to storm the National Assembly in Tripoli, demanding an end to the siege.

The pro-government blockade is unlikely to end soon, according to a source whose family is inside the besieged town.

“The government first said that what is happening [in Bani Walid] should stop, but after that… they came out and said that it is a good war against evil,” the source told RT.  

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Post-Gaddafi grievances

One year after NATO forces bombed Libya, the question remains whether the country is in better shape than it was under Gaddafi’s rule.  

“There’s no legitimacy with this post-Gaddafi government. It makes Muammar Gaddafi’s government look like a beacon of light in a shining city on a hill,” geopolitical analyst Patrick Henningsen told RT.

Before the fall of Libya’s ex-leader, Western governments accused him of numerous rights violations and crimes against humanity. Gaddafi was painted as a ruthless dictator who would stop at nothing – even the deaths of his own people.

The country was declared ‘liberated’ a few days after Gaddafi’s death on October 20, 2011. But twelve months on, many say Libya has not progressed beyond what it once was.

And although Western governments preached peace and stability in Libya, some analysts say those powers are actually to blame for the nation’s current state of chaos.

“We know that the situation is enormously unstable, we know the [government] is unable to get weapons out of the militias' hands, we know that the government isn’t in control,” political activist John Reese from the Stop the War Coalition told RT. “I think it shows that Western intervention simply pumped more arms into the country and made it ungovernable after they left.”

An estimated 30,000 rebels took part in last year’s uprising against Gaddafi, according to military observers in Libya. But Libya’s Warriors Affairs Commission says the number of armed men currently in the country has now grown to 250,000.

Libya is awash with weapons, and although its new leaders led the country to elections, they have failed to fully impose their authority on a nation full of militia groups formed by former rebels.

“The ruling party in Libya right now is an amateur government. It’s an artificial creation of the West in the post-Gaddafi regime-change plan. So this gives you an indication of how they’re governing in this country, and certainly there is no stability in Libya compared to before the NATO bombing and destruction of their country,” Henningsen said.

Arab world commentator Barry Lando says the outlook for the country is grim as ever, as armed militias now represent the true power in Libya.

“The way it’s changed is that it is absolute chaos now and fear,” he said. “And before, under Gaddafi, you knew who the brutal dictator was, knew how to stay out of his sight. Now you have hundreds of militias, many of them heavily armed. Hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of weapons are out there; more weapons than people. And it’s also spilling oven in other countries. The new government seems to be standing there looking at what’s happening around them, nearly powerless to do much about it.”

Libya’s fragile government was plunged into disarray when its Congress sacked Mustafa Abushagur – the first prime minister to be elected since the uprising – for failing to form a new cabinet.

The country’s new Prime Minister, Ali Zaidan, is also in danger of losing his post if the Libyan National Congress rejects his proposed cabinet – which would once again weaken the perceived legitimacy of the new government.

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