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Libyan national congress suspended amid unrest

Analysts and Moammar Qaddafi's critics say that his role as 'Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution' will keep him firmly in control, dictating state policy while juggling key tribes and political factions.

RABAT // Libya's national congress has suspended its session indefinitely, according to a website affiliated with the leader's son, amid anti-government protests yesterday in defiance of a state crackdown that opposition and human rights groups say has killed dozens.

The website Quryna, which has ties to Seif al Islam Qaddafi, son of Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi, said many state executives will be replaced when the congress returns, the Associated Press reported.

Also, the Oea newspaper reported that anti-government demonstrators hanged two policemen after capturing them in the eastern city of Al-Baida.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said in a report yesterday that police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in cities across the country on Wednesday and Thursday, killing at least 24 people.

Libyan dissidents cited by news agencies have said the death toll could be higher. The extent of violence is unclear and reports are difficult to verify.

Not included in the toll were at least three more deaths yesterday after 1,000 inmates tried to escape from a prison and were shot dead by security forces in Benghazi.

Yesterday soldiers deployed in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, and the scene of protests in recent days, Reuters reported.

Hundreds of protesters were camped out in front of Benghazi's courthouse to demand an end to the four-decade rule of Col Qaddafi.

Opposition groups called for a day of peaceful protests last Thursday - a "Day of Rage".

However, protests began two days ahead of schedule in Benghazi, and have spread to at least four other cities, according to Human Rights Watch.

Col Qaddafi's regime vowed yesterday to crush any challenge, as the Libyan leader toured Tripoli in a motorcade to the cheers of assembled supporters.

Col Qaddafi took power in 1969 in a bloodless coup that toppled Libya's pro-western monarchy. He went on to restructure government as a system of committees that he has called a form of democracy.

Analysts and Col Qaddafi's critics say that his role as "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution" keeps him firmly in control, dictating state policy while juggling key tribes and political factions.

Meanwhile, Libya has liberalised its economy in recent years as part of reconciliation with western countries following decades of hostility, while its vast oil wealth can be used to soothe economic woes.

"There could be continuing unrest in the east, which has never really acquiesced to Col Qaddafi's rule," said John Hamilton, a Libya expert at Cross-Border Information, a British risk analysis firm. "The key thing to watch out for is signs of unrest in Tripoli."

jthorne@thenational.ae

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