Monday, February 21, 2011

Libya unrest: Violence against protesters backfires

It would be ironic if Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya were to become the third head claimed by this Arab Spring.

In 1986, Ronald Reagan famously dubbed him the "mad dog of the Middle East" and launched air strikes against the country, killing Mr Gaddafi's daughter.

But two decades later, the Bush administration announced that it was restoring full diplomatic relations and by 2008, US state department officials were speaking of their erstwhile adversary as "a person of personality and experience".

Both of those qualities seem unlikely to save his 42-year rule.

In the 1990s, with Libya's economy facing strangulation by sanction, Mr Gaddafi made a series of concessions over his role in the Lockerbie bombing, paying compensation to victims' families and making conciliatory statements that indicated a break with his radical past.

The real breakthrough came at the end of 2003. Mr Gaddafi's son Saif - who made a delusional and meandering speech on Sunday as the regime began to crumble at the edges - finally hammered out a deal in which Libya agreed to end its nuclear weapons programme and dismantle its ballistic missiles.

This rapprochement is not without consequence for those protesting and dying in large numbers on the streets of first Benghazi, and now Tripoli.


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