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Geopolitics

Benghazi: The Frontline In The Revolt Against Gaddafi

In the heart of the uprising against the Libyan regime, the death count is still unknown, but the scars are everywhere.

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Cécile Hennion

BENGHAZI - The shots that resound in the night are no longer the echoes of the fierce street battles that set off the uprising against the Libyan regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The rattle of gunfire is now accompanied by a victorious honking of car horns and cries of joy. "Benghazi is free!" shout the men perched on car roofs, waving their pistols and Kalashnikovs. Like the rest of Cyrenaica, a province adjacent to the Egyptian border, this city of one million inhabitants is no longer held by the Libyan army or police, but by a disparate crowd of workers, teachers, petrochemical engineers, adolescents and soldiers who have swapped uniforms for the traditional keffiyeh headdress, joining the "People's Liberation Army" in Benghazi.

The city walls are riddled with bullets and the hospitals overwhelmed by the number of wounded. The morgues and freshly dug trenches for "the martyrs' bear silent testimony to the terrible violence of the past five days.

In Benghazi, as elsewhere in eastern Libya, portraits of the Colonel have been slashed and thrown to the ground. Police stations and military camps: burned, looted pillaged. The stories of the wounded, doctors and local residents help piece together. But it is a still incomplete picture. How many people have died? Can the rebellious Benghazi retain its victory?

In the intensive care unit of city's main Jala hospital, the daily death toll reads: 20 dead on February 17, another 35 on February 18 and 70 dead on February 19, a decisive day in which the local military camp fell. The next day another 52 died. In total, 177 deaths have been recorded at the Jala hospital. Combined with the bodies at Benghazi Medical Center, some 300 people are believed to have died and thousands injured.

"After Gaddafi's last speech," explains the doctor. "We're preparing for the worst. The patients that can be moved have been evacuated further east. We have received reinforcements, four vehicle loads of medical supplies from Egypt and four American doctors. We're exhausted, upset and depressed."

According to Benghazi's residents, the demonstrations began peacefully. They kicked off initially close to the watchtower-topped Fadhil Puaomar military camp in the center of the city. It was here that the first shots were fired. The following day, a furious crowd carried the bodies of the martyrs back to the camp, marching straight into the line of fire. "Ninety percent of the victims fell with a bullet to the head or chest. The shots were professional, precise and fired to kill," said Dr. Habib.

The doctor goes from bed to bed. Naji Salem Jibril, a small hole in the front, a gaping wound in the neck, was brought in on February 21 and has been declared brain dead. In the neighboring bed, Mounir Majdaat was also shot in the neck. He blinks bewilderedly. At best, he will be a paraplegic. Beside him, 28-year-old Moguch Amr was shot twice in the chest but is expected to survive. Another miracle: Emragaa Fakach Ibrahim, a 25-year-old taxi driver, received two bullets to the head and lost the left half of his face, but he will live.

African mercenaries

Zahra Omar, a 23-year-old Chadian national, who was driving to work near the military camp, was hit above the ear. On Saturday, the crowd remained, caught in the gunfire from the camp and a local police station as well as occasional RPG fire. The surrounding walls riddled with holes appear to confirm these reports, as do the body parts at the Jala morgue. According to local witnesses, it was "African mercenaries' who fought the final battle against a crowd drunk with anger, this time armed with sabres and batons,

According to reports, these mercenaries were flown into the airport of Labrak, some 65 kilometres away from Derna and Benghazi, where the airport runways had been destroyed by the local inhabitants to prevent the arrival of additional troops. A local school at Chahhat, some 250 kilometres from Benghazi, has been converted into a makeshift jail for some 150 prisoners. Many of them injured, lying under blankets, they remain mute in the face of interrogations.

It's hard to imagine 70-year-old Jabar Ahmad as a bloodthirsty mercenary. According to his ID he comes from Sabhab, a city in southern Libya. He explains how he "received a free ticket to Tripoli to demonstrate in support of the Colonel," only to find himself landing in Labrak, to then be transferred by bus to a military camp. Ahmad found himself in the midst of fighting that first pitted the inhabitants against the army, and then the army against itself, tanks loyal to Gaddafi against tanks loyal to the people. He was "so scared" that he hid before being captured and tortured.

Amongst the military, there have been 40 reported deaths. The military camp and its abandoned tanks have become a playground for children. The prisoners have been taken charge of by military members who have defected.

In Benghazi, Dr. Habib's morgue is full. There are a number of bodies that no one has come to claim, including those of large, dark-skinned men. "This one is called, according to his papers, Krown Nicolas Lacnka Wohoin, do not tell me that is a Libyan or Berber name!" says the doctor. This man has a slash across his skull. "These wounds are from a sabre: which is what the people of Benghazi were using on the last day of fighting Sunday," he explains.

Upstairs, a young Egyptian woman, racked by shame and despair, tells how she was woken up on Saturday night by men speaking a foreign language and beaten and raped. "Courage, my sister," says one nurse. "Your honor is safe. You are a martyr of Benghazi, a heroine of the revolution. And unlike many others, you'll be there to see freedom." These are just the first stories from Benghazi.

Read the original article in French

Photo - mshamma

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