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Gaddafi Regime in 'State of Panic' as Libyans Take to the Streets for Day of Rage

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TRIPOLI, Yousef Mahmoud: The recent events in Libya come at a time as a wave of huge change is sweeping the region. After the Tunisian uprising succeeded in overthrowing president Ben Ali, the Libyan regime was taken by surprise and the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was in a state of denial. He criticized the Tunisian people. But when his biggest ally in the region, Egyptian president Husni Mubarak, was overthrown in a remarkable way, the regime went into a state of panic.

Many Libyan youths were inspired by what they saw on television and on the Internet in both neighbouring countries, and have become more enthusiastic about staging protests on the streets of Libya's cities. Many social network pages have been created, calling for a "day of rage" on February 17, 2011. But it was the reaction of the security forces in Benghazi, the second largest city and known for its confrontation with the Libyan regime, that sparked the protests both in Benghazi and elsewhere, especially in the Eastern region.

The regime had some time to prepare and tackle any protests and demonstrations, especially in Benghazi; they paid huge amounts of money and gave brand new cars to officials to gather youths with criminal records, and members of the notorious revolutionary committees, to clash with the protesters who started chanting slogans against corruption and injustice and then against the regime and Muammar Gaddafi himself. The security forces dispersed the protests with tear gas, rubber bullets and, according to some reports, live ammunition. At least two dozen were injured, some reporting deaths.

Yesterday there were reports of more protests in several Libyan cities Al Bieda, Derna, Beni Walid, Zintin, with reports of three deaths in Al Bieda, and last night protesters in Benghazi clashed with security forces and members of revolutionary committees.

With all the events happening in small and contained cities across the vastness of Libya, it is the capital Tripoli that matters most. Here the situation has been calm and life is normal but there is tension in the air. The regime has staged many Pro-Gaddafi demonstrations in the city, shouting slogans praising Gaddafi, and condemning media channels like Aljazeera. Most people are watching nervously from the roadside. Some have suggested that the participants in these staged, pro-regime demonstrators were brought from Sirte, the home town of Colonel Gaddafi, and it seems that it was intended to intimidate and cast fear in the people of Tripoli.

Meanwhile, the government is trying everything to calm the stagnant political and economic situation. In the last two weeks there have been many news reports in the state media outlining the government's achievements, and offering promises to lower unemployment and give affordable housing to young Libyans. They even distributed 150,000 laptops to members of the Youth Organisation, affiliated with Saif Al Islam Gaddafi the "reformist" and heir apparent of the Libyan leader, and there were also many unconfirmed reports that there will be new political reforms that will be introduced in less than two weeks.

The situation in Libya is sensitive and sometimes unpredictable: everything depends on the reactions of the people and the regime on the streets. If there is one lesson we can learn from Tunisia and Egypt, it is that no one can tell what will happen tomorrow.

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