Gaddafi gives weapons to civilians

2011-04-28 22:59

Gazahiya - A 22-year-old university student balanced an unloaded grenade launcher on his shoulder, grunted loudly in place of an explosion as he pulled the trigger, then handed the weapon to the next man.

The military drill on the lawn of a clinic in a remote village in government-controlled western Libya was part of what Muammar Gaddafi's regime has tried to portray as a large-scale arming and training of the home front. Foreign reporters on a government tour were also taken to a school where a couple teenage boys fired Kalashnikov rifles in the air.

The scenes appeared to have been hastily arranged. Men at a desert shooting range - barrels set up as targets on a rocky plain - said they had been bussed to the site for the first time that day. A few dozen middle school boys participating in a military rally in their school yard said they had received their fatigues just a day earlier.

Government spokesperson Moussa Ibrahim said last week that hundreds of thousands of rifles were being distributed to civilians to defend the home front, a claim that is impossible to verify because of tight restrictions on journalists in western Libya.

About a dozen Libyans interviewed in three different areas recently said they had been handed Kalashnikovs from municipal weapons depots.

The reports that the government was arming supporters to suppress anti-regime demonstrations in the capital Tripoli first emerged at the start of the uprising against Gaddafi in mid-February. The government claims it is arming people to defend against foreign ground troops - even though there are none in western Libya - rather than to fight fellow Libyans.

However, the attempt to show civilians training with weapons could be a sign that Gaddafi loyalists are growing more nervous about their grip on western Libya. There has been persistent fighting in two major pockets of rebel resistance in that part of the country, including the coastal city of Misrata where rebels have held out during a two-month onslaught.

Those training on Wednesday in the Tarhouna district, 70km southeast of the capital of Tripoli, seemed unsure of who their enemy was. Some struggled with whether they would shoot at fellow Libyans who have risen up against Gaddafi and now control the east of the country.

Defend against Nato

Volunteers said they had been told they must defend their homes against Nato ground troops, but would not be asked to go to the front. Some dismissed the rebels as al-Qaeda-led ex-convicts or foreigners, repeating government propaganda that has tried to paint the rebels as Islamic extremists.

High school student Sanna Kanouni, 16, said she was learning how to handle a rifle to repel the "barbarian, colonial crusader aggression." Asked what she knew about the rebels in the east, she said they are drug-taking foreigners, not Libyans - mimicking a line also put out by the government.

In her crammed classroom a lesson in taking apart a Kalashnikov was under way. Kanouni briefly fumbled with the weapons parts, gave up and pumped her fist to the pro-Gaddafi chants of her classmates.

Outside the high school, students posed with Kalashnikovs, some of them firing in the air.

High school students in Libya have traditionally received some weapons training, students and teachers at the school said, though they disagreed on the starting age of military training and on what exactly was involved.

At an elementary and middle school in the nearby village of Sagya, two dozen boys who appeared to be around 11 or 12 years old and were dressed in military fatigues participated in a pro-Gaddafi rally on the school grounds.

They briefly marched and stood at attention. Their principal, Abdel Razek Mahmoudi, said the boys had started marching drills two weeks ago, but were not touching guns.

However, 11-year-old Abdullah Rajab Iyad, said he'd been allowed to handle a gun earlier that day. The principal, overhearing the conversation, abruptly led the boy away.

Men in their 20s fired wildly into the air in the school yard, from amid the children. The programme ended with a competition among about 20 men to see who was fastest at taking apart a Kalashnikov and putting it back together again.

Click not satisfying

Abdel Monem al-Muftah, who oversees the training of civilians in Tarhouna, said about 200 people each have been trained at 15 sites, ranging in age from 18 to 70.

On the clinic grounds in Gazahiya, several dozen men sat in circles, each group learning about a different weapon. The training seemed basic at best.

Mohammed Jumma, a 22-year-old computer science student, was handed a rocket-propelled grenade launcher without ammunition. The instructor told him to make sure no one was behind him before he fired - the weapon sends out a powerful back blast. He then corrected Jumma's stance, left foot forward if the launcher is on the right shoulder.

Jumma pulled the trigger. The anticlimactic click that followed was not deemed satisfying, and he was asked to fire again, this time with a loud yell, before the launcher was handed to the next in line.

Moammar al-Ghrara, a 37-year-old Arabic teacher, said he would command a group of 40 men if the time came to defend the neighbourhood. Al-Ghrara refused to entertain the thought that the rebels were ordinary Libyans.

When pressed, he said he would shoot at anyone, including Libyans, if they attacked his area.

The heavy weapons were displayed at the desert shooting range. Four men in fatigues crouching on the ground fired heavy machine guns toward barrels. Others fired off grenade launchers and an anti-aircraft gun, to the chants of "Allahu Akbar".

Omar Musbah Omar, 23, said he has been training off and on for the past month, and that he and each of his four brothers had been given Kalashnikovs to keep at home. He said he would never raise a weapon against a fellow Libyan.

But, he said: "We're ready for Nato."

  • greensplash - 2011-04-28 23:55

    Good for them! It is interesting how news24 immediately dismisses all the Libyan quotes as government propaganda. Surely the Libyans actually living through a civil war have a better understanding of what is going on that the handful of western reporters in the country.

      slg - 2011-04-29 06:06

      Good for them that they are being armed by Gadhafi into believing that he is their saviour, the rebels Al-Quaeda terrorists, and the freer world their enemy?

      daaivark - 2011-04-29 07:08

      So when last were you in Libya, that you can make such a statement?

      Gatvol - 2011-04-29 08:39

      If Gaddaif's regime was the victims here, why block the media? That shows that they have plenty to hide from the rest of the world. Now after shooting civilians the Gadaffi regime is now arming school children to fight for no ohter reason but to keep Gaddafi the sick f@#k in power. Nato has 2 options here 1) Take Gaddafi out (recommended) or 2) Send in ground troops, and that's gonna be messy 3)Political solution; nothing has worked, he won't listen

      Realist - 2011-04-29 10:14

      @Gatvol You sure thats two options? And just to put a nice cherry on top of your story here, had you bothered to actually look at what was being shown, just before the media black out, you would have seen thousands of people against the UN and literally standing up for ask yourself the question...why the hell would they if he was so bad to them? Nobody is asking you to design a box that stores energy here guy...just apply a liiiiitttle bit of intelligence...

      slg - 2011-04-29 20:51

      Realist, the reflection is yours. The reality you're being a realist about is the wrong one. You are totally off key here and missing the main point of what is going on in the Middle East. Talk about being blind. How can you miss it? Wake up!

      slg - 2011-05-01 00:05

      Realist, a small clue to activate your intelligence: Gadhafi is paying many of his supporters and threatening the rest with death. Can't you see this?

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