Mass arrests as Gaddafi 'crushes army rebellion'

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SECURITY forces of the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, crushed some kind of armed resistance in the centre of the country, according to reports out of Libya.

There are reports of scores of arrests of military personnel and civilians over the past 10 days. This follows what was described as a rebellion by an army unit in or near the city of Misratah, on the coast, 60 miles east of Tripoli.

Reports in the Arabic press in London have referred to trouble spreading to the area of the Bani Walid tribe. Widespread dissatisfaction has been exacerbated by the worsening economic climate caused in part by the UN sanctions against Libya imposed because of its failure to hand over two men accused of blowing up a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie in December 1988.

Libya-watchers note that shortly after the unrest erupted, Libyan television showed footage of the sheikh of the Bani Walid pledging loyalty to Colonel Gaddafi. Other tribes also pledged their loyalty to him. Such overt displays in a country where information is tightly controlled by the central authorities are designed to reassure people that the rumours of unrest were exaggerated.

Despite the much-vaunted 1969 Libyan revolution, Libyan society remains very tribal and traditional. Colonel Gaddafi, from a small tribe, needs the support of larger tribal groups such as the Megara, and has a tough job balancing different tribal rivalries with promises of aid.

Other signs that Colonel Gaddafi had to confront dissidents came in a speech he delivered to 'revolutionary women' in Misratah on 14 October. It was a speech devoted to treachery and the evils of the Muslim Brothers - who are opposed to Colonel Gaddafi's rule and may have been behind the unrest.

He warned that 'stray dogs' would be hunted down. 'We should start the search right now for a dog which might be barking for the interests of the enemy . . . We should decide that as from 1994 no heretic or stray dog should ever emerge from any family.

'The error lies in the programme of the Muslim Brothers . . . The revolution is fighting it. If this is not rectified, one should expect a number of deviations to occur, like heresy, or becoming stray dogs, or committing treason or becoming a hireling or an enemy of the religion, enemy of the nation, the historic enemy.'

Reports of coups and insurrections have occurred with some frequency over the years.