January 24, 2012
* Bani Walid now under control of Gaddafi loyalists
* Four dead and 25 wounded in violent battles
Libya's ramshackle government lost control of a former Gaddafi stronghold today after locals staged an armed uprising.
Forces loyal to ousted, and now dead, leader Muammar Gaddafi seized control of Bani Walid and then raised in celebration the deposed regime's green flag on hundreds of buildings.
The re-taking of the town, which saw elders driven out in a lengthy bloody gunbattle which killed four people and left 25 others wounded, raises the spectre that the country will descend into civil war.
>Celebration: A photo, reportedly from Bani Walid which appeared on a Libyan website, shows a green flag being raised as Gaddafi loyalists re-captured the town
Captured: Photos, reportedly taken in Bani Walid, show the flags that represent the presence of supporters of the ousted regime
The return of violence to the oil-rich North African nation will also be met with a rolling of the eyes in Washington and London, who both spent billions in pushing Gaddafi out.
This week's bloodshed in Bani Walid poses the gravest challenge yet to the country's new rulers - the National Transitional Council.
A local resident said yesterday's battles began when members of the May 28 militia, affiliated to the NTC, arrested some former Gaddafi loyalists.
That prompted other supporters of the former leader to attack the militia's garrison.
Anger: Libyans damage the car of National Transitional Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil over the weekend
Demands: Among protesters in Benghazi are Islamists demanding Libyan ruler apply Islamic sharia law
Mubarak al-Fatamni, the head of Bani Walid local council, fled to the nearby city of Misrata following the attack, which witnesses said was fought using heavy weaponry.
A top commander of a revolutionary brigade in Bani Walid, Ali al-Fatamni, who was present in Benghazi during the attack, said he had lost contact with other fighters in the town.
The NTC still has the backing of the NATO powers who, with their diplomatic pressure and bombing campaign, helped push out Gaddafi and install the new government.
NTC authorities pledged to unify the tribally-divided country, reconstruct its once mighty oil industry that made Libya a major exporter in OPEC, and hold democratic elections.
But the town's revolt heightens doubts in the West about the NTC government's ability to instil law and order.
This is seen as crucial to rebuilding oil exports, to disarming tribal militias and guarding Libyan borders in a region where Al Qaeda is active.
Discontent: Crowds break into the local NTC headquarters in Benghazi on Saturday
Occupation: Crowds demanded to speak NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil after reaching the second floor
The collapse of NTC authority in the town, one of the most die-hard bastions of pro-Gaddafi sentiment during Libya's nine-month civil war last year, could not come at a worse time.
Growing discontent about the NTC has spread across the country - with the biggest demonstration taking place in Benghazi, the birthplace of last year's uprising.
Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, vice-president of the NTC, resigned on Monday after a series of violent protests in the eastern port city.
Demonstrators, who claim many NTC members are tarnished by ties to Gaddafi and failed to quickly restore basic public services, smashed windows at the local headquarters on Saturday night.
And on Thursday, crowds jostled Ghoga during a library visit as security staff struggled to help him escape. Last night he said he was quitting to try to limit the damage to the council.
'My resignation is for the benefit of the nation and is required at this stage,’ Ghoga told Al Jazeera News.
Confusion: NTC deputy Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, left,
quit despite leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil saying he didn't
think his colleague would resign. Abdel Jalil warned the country was
descending into a 'bottomless pit'
He said the national consensus that helped the country rise up and end Gaddafi’s rule had not lasted into peacetime, giving way instead to what he called an atmosphere of 'hatred.’
'I do not want this atmosphere to continue and negatively affect the National Transitional Council and its performance,’ said Ghoga, who also acted as the NTC’s spokesman.
He is one of the most senior of Libya’s new rulers to have left office since Gaddafi’s overthrow in August. His departure will revive doubts about the NTC’s ability to form a cohesive and effective government.
NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil, speaking in Benghazi on Monday, appealed to the protesters to be more patient.
'We are going through a political movement that can take the country to a bottomless pit,’ he said. 'There is something behind these protests that is not for the good of the country.
'The people have not given the government enough time and the government does not have enough money.
Disturbing legacy: Many NTC members are said to
be tainted by former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, while his son Saif,
right, is the now the focus of international human rights groups over
the way he is being held<br>
'Maybe there are delays, but the government has only been working for two months. Give them a chance, at least two months.’
In a glimpse of the lack of co-ordination which Western diplomats say pervades the workings of the NTC, Abdel Jalil was asked if Ghoga would be stepping down and said he would not.
The organisation is also under increasing pressure to hand over Gaddafi’s influential son Saif to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Despite his father’s regime’s brutal record, the case has become an unlikely rallying point for global human rights advocates.
The NTC have been criticised for failing to tell him what he is charged with or give him access to a lawyer.
Saif, who lost his right thumb and forefinger during the civil war, is also denied visitors, television, radio and the internet at his compound in Zintan, 100 miles from Tripoli.
Libyan leaders insist the country will hold a trial. But Donatella Rovera, an Amnesty International official, said the NTC had failed to put in place a trial system with independent judges and skilled prosecutors.