N. Africa, Mideast protests: Libya's interior minister kidnapped, media say
A Tunisian man crosses from Libya back into Tunisia on Wednesday as thousands of foreigners flee the restive country.
February 23rd, 2011
08:26 PM ET

N. Africa, Mideast protests: Libya's interior minister kidnapped, media say

Across the Middle East and North Africa, CNN's reporters and iReporters are covering protests, many of them inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt that toppled those countries' longtime rulers. Check out our story explaining the roots of the unrest in each country. Have a story to tell from the scene? Click here to send an iReport.

Developments on unrest in the Middle East and North Africa:

[LIBYA, 9:40 p.m. ET, 4:40 a.m. local] CNN's Tommy Evans took the following photo of people crossing into Tunisia from Ras Ajdir, Libya, on Wednesday. Thousands of people were fleeing Libya due to the unrest and violence there. At this border crossing, Tunisian volunteers greeted people with food and medical care.

[LIBYA, 8:45 p.m. ET, 3:45 a.m. local] CNN's Ben Wedeman, reporting from the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, which is in opposition control, says an ad-hoc local government has been put in place at Benghazi's courthouse. Citizens have set up committees to collect garbage, protect government property, and ensure an adequate supply of food and medicine.

[LIBYA, 7:22 p.m. ET, 2:22 a.m. local] Aaron David Miller, former Middle East negotiator in the U.S. State Department, writes that there are many good reasons for a careful U.S. approach to Libya, with the Americans-in-Libya factor being just one.

[LIBYA, 6:55 p.m. ET, 1:55 a.m. local] CNN's Ed Henry reports that although U.S. President Barack Obama had taken heat for a relatively muted response in the early days of the crisis in Libya, U.S. officials privately believe it was the best strategy because if Obama had bashed Libya's leader, it could have put the thousands of Americans who are in Libya in harm's way.

[YEMEN, 6:47 p.m. ET, 2:47 a.m. local] Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is calling for an end to the protests in that country and said he supports the creation of a national unity government to oversee upcoming parliamentary elections, the state-run news service Saba reported Wednesday.

He said that demonstrations must stop to "prepare for a suitable atmosphere" for the elections, and he also repeated his pledge not to run for re-election, Saba reported.

Anti-government demonstrators say that's not good enough. Undeterred by an attack on their sit- a day earlier – when at least two people were killed, according to an opposition lawmaker - anti-government protesters gathered at Sanaa University again on Wednesday to demand that Saleh step down.

[ALGERIA, 6:29 p.m. ET, 12:29 a.m. local] The United States welcomes Algeria's decision to lift its 1992 state of emergency decree "as a positive step," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in an e-mailed statement.

"We reaffirm our support for the universal rights of the Algerian people, including the freedom of assembly and expression," Crowley said.

Algeria's move, announced yesterday, lifts restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly. Those restrictions were imposed in 1992 to combat an Islamist insurgency. The decision to lift the restrictions comes as Algeria, like other Arab nations, faces waves of protest.

[LIBYA, 6:01 p.m. ET, 1:01 a.m. local] U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley says via Twitter that a chartered ship that is tasked to evacuate U.S. citizens from Libya's capital to Malta is delayed "due to high seas."

"Citizens are safe on board. It will leave when the weather permits," Crowley's message says.

The ferry picked up U.S. citizens, embassy staff, and some third-country nationals Wednesday at central Tripoli's As-shahab port. The ferry can hold 575 people; it's not clear how many people are on board.

[LIBYA, 5:39 p.m. ET, 12:39 a.m. local] Here is video of U.S. President Barack Obama's statement on Libya. In the statement, Obama said the United States strongly condemns the violence in Libya, is sending top envoys to Europe to discuss the situation, and is considering a series of options including sanctions against the Libyan government.

[LIBYA, 5:23 p.m. ET, 12:23 a.m. local] In his statement on Libya, U.S. President Barack Obama said he has instructed Bill Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, to make several stops "in Europe and the region to intensify our consultation with allies and partners about the situation in Libya."

He also said he is sending U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, to meet with a number of foreign ministers convening for a session of the Human Rights Council.

"There, she'll hold consultations with her counterparts on events throughout the region and continue to ensure that we join with the international community to speak with one voice to the government and the people of Libya," Obama said.

The Human Rights Council, part of the United Nations, is negotiating a resolution on Libya, according to European diplomats who spoke to CNN.

Obama, in his statement, said the United States is looking at a series of options - including sanctions - unilaterally as well as through international institutions, allies and partners to put pressure on Libya's government in light of the violence there.

[LIBYA, 5:15 p.m. ET, 12:15 a.m. local] More from U.S. President Barack Obama's statement on Libya: He said the United States "will continue to stand up for freedom, stand up for justice and stand up for the dignity of all people."

[LIBYA, 5:12 p.m. ET, 12:12 a.m. local] More from U.S. President Barack Obama's statement on Libya: He said the United States strongly condemns the use of violence in Libya, adding that "the suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable."

He said Libya "must be held accountable" for its failure to meet its responsibilities. "The entire world is watching," he said.

[LIBYA, 5:09 p.m. ET, 12:09 a.m. local] The United States is doing "everything we can" to protect American citizens in Libya, President Barack Obama said. The United States also is looking at options to put pressure on Libya's government - including sanctions - in light of the violence there, Obama said.

Obama still is speaking about Libya, and we'll have more shortly.

[LIBYA, 5:05 p.m. ET, 12:05 a.m. local] The daughter of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Aisha Gadhafi, tells Libyan state TV that she's heard reports that the United Nations has dropped her as an unpaid goodwill ambassador, but she says she can't verify whether it's true.

"But all the Libyans, who know me and I (know) them, they know that I am the goodwill ambassador with or without the United Nations," she said.

Earlier, the United Nations said it did terminate Gadhafi's daughter's stint as a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Development Program. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Aisha Gadhafi was appointed goodwill ambassador for Libya in 2009 to address HIV/AIDS and violence against women in the country. Nesirky said the U.N. agency ended its agreement with her given recent events in Libya.

[LIBYA, 3:56 p.m. ET, 10:56 p.m. local] U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned what he called "egregious violations" of human rights in Libya's attempt to put down a spreading revolt Wednesday.

"Those responsible for brutally shedding the blood of innocents must be punished," he told reporters.

[LIBYA, 3:39 p.m. ET, 10:39 p.m. local] U.S. prices for crude oil settles at $98.10 a barrel after hitting $100 for the first time since October 2008 as reports of Libyan oil production shutdowns swirled.

[LIBYA, 3:32 p.m. ET, 10:32 p.m. local] U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Libyan government "will be held accountable" for the acts of violence taken against protesters.

"Everything will be on the table," she told reporters at the State Department in Washington. "We will look at all the possible options" to end the violence.

"This is now the moment for the international community to act together," she said. The U.S. government "deeply regrets the loss of life" that has occurred in Libya.

Clinton noted that the situation in Libya is "fluid and uncertain" at the moment, and said U.S. authorities are "consulting closely" with representatives of other governments. Clinton stressed that the State Department is encouraging all Americans to leave Libya immediately.

[LIBYA, 3:25 p.m. ET, 10:25 p.m. local] A U.S. chartered ship that is tasked to evacuate U.S. citizens out of Libya will stay in port in Tripoli all night because of bad weather, diplomatic sources say. The ship is expected to leave at some point Thursday morning, the sources said.

[ZIMBABWE, 3:11 p.m. ET] Zimbabwe isn't in North Africa or the Middle East, but we have an update on a development in Zimbabwe that has a connection to unrest in those regions. Last week, dozens of political activists and union members were rounded up in Zimbabwe on suspicion of plotting an Egyptian-style uprising against longtime President Robert Mugabe. On Wednesday, a prosecutor said they've been charged with treason and face possible death sentences.

[LIBYA, 1:39 p.m. ET, 8:39 p.m. local] U.S. oil prices spiked above $100 a barrel for the first time in more than two years Wednesday, as reports of Libyan oil production shutdowns swirled.

[LIBYA, 1:06 p.m. ET, 8:06 p.m. local] President Barack Obama condemns the violence in Libya and will make a public statement on the situation Wednesday or Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

[LIBYA, 12:55 p.m. ET, 7:55 p.m. local] The United Nations has dropped Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's daughter as an unpaid goodwill ambassador, the U.N. announced. Aisha al-Gadhafi was appointed to the post in 2009 to address HIV/AIDS and violence against women in Libya, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

[LIBYA, 12:45 p.m. ET, 7:45 p.m. local] Italian oil giant Eni, the largest foreign oil company in Libya, said production in the country has been partially shut down due to ongoing violence.

[LIBYA, 12:25 p.m. ET, 7:25 p.m. local] The death toll in Libya may be as high as 1,000, a representative for Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.

[LIBYA, 9:45 a.m., 4:45 p.m. local] A Libyan military aircraft crashed Wednesday southwest of Benghazi after the crew refused to follow orders to bomb the city, Libya's Quryna newspaper reported.

[ISRAEL, 9:39 a.m. ET, 4:39 p.m. local] Israeli President Shimon Peres called the presence of Iranian warships in the Suez Canal a "provocation" and not a serious threat, but he warned an audience of Europeans that they face an "existential" danger from Iran's nuclear program. In Iran, a military commander expressed patriotic pride over the first Iranian vessels to sail through the Suez since the Islamic republic's 1979 revolution.

[LIBYA, 7:43 a.m., 2:43 p.m. local] Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirms a chartered evacuation flight for U.K. citizens has left England for Tripoli, Libya. A second flight is planned for later Wednesday.

[IRAN, 7:41 a.m. ET, 4:11 p.m. local] Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged Middle East leaders to listen to citizens who demand a change in government. "He strongly recommended such leaders to let their peoples express their opinions," the Islamic Republic News Agency reported Ahmadinejad as saying.

[GAZA, 7:37 a.m. ET, 2:37 p.m. local] Israeli tank shelling east of Gaza City has injured 11 people on Wednesday, Palestinian security and medical sources said. The Israel Defense Forces said its soldiers returned fire after an explosive device detonated near troops on the Israel-northern Gaza border and a mortar shell was fired at them.

[LIBYA, 6 a.m. ET, 1 p.m. local] The eastern Libyan region of Cyrenaica is no longer under the control of the Libyan government, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.

[EGYPT, 5:46 a.m. ET, 12:46 p.m. local] The Interior Ministry building in Egypt was burning Wednesday as smoke billowed into the sky over Cairo. Witnesses said the fire was started during unrest in the area and could have been from Molotov cocktails. The building was the scene of violent clashes during the Egyptian revolution and is about three blocks away from Tahrir Square.

[LIBYA, 4:49 a.m. ET, 11:49 a.m. local] A witness in the capital city of Tripoli said Wednesday morning that sporadic gunshots rang out all night long. When day broke, the main roads in the city had been "cleaned off as if nothing happened," she said. Most were staying indoors, as security forces increased their presence on many streets.

She said several more checkpoints have been set up, restricting residents' movements. She reported the food shortage is getting worse, and shops were closed Wednesday.

[LIBYA, 4:36 a.m. ET, 11:36 a.m. local] All night long, residents in Libya's capital Tripoli heard sporadic gunshots, a resident told CNN Wednesday.

When day broke, the main roads in the city had been "cleaned off as if nothing happened," she said.  Most were staying indoors, as security forces increased their presence on many streets following Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's defiant speech Tuesday to hold on to power.

[CAMEROON, 4:16 a.m. ET, 10:16 a.m. local] Opposition groups in Cameroon are planning "Egypt-like" protests Wednesday to call for the president's ouster after almost three decades in power.

[LIBYA, 3:55 a.m. ET, 10:55 a.m. local] Among the unwitting victims caught up in the violent unrest in Libya are asylum-seekers and refugees, the U.N. refugee agency said as it urged neighboring countries not to turn them away should they flee the upheaval.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday, the chief spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said that the reports she has received have been worrying.

"A journalist has passed  information to us from Somalis in Tripoli who  say they are being hunted  on suspicion of being mercenaries. He says  they
feel trapped and are  frightened to go out, even though there is  little or no food at home," Melissa Fleming said.

[YEMEN, 2:28 a.m. ET, 10:28 a.m. local] At least two people were killed when pro-government loyalists attacked and opened fire on anti-government sit-in participants in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday night, an opposition lawmaker said.

Foad Dahaba, a lawmaker with the opposition Islah party, provided the figure to CNN on Wednesday. Until now, protesters had provided conflicting numbers for the toll.

[TURKEY, 2:22 a.m. ET, 9:22 a.m. local] Two ferry boats carrying more than 3,000 Turks left the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi early Wednesday morning, the Turkish foreign ministry said. Two more ferry boats – each capable of carrying 1,200 - are headed to the North African nation.

The ministry added, "Apart from Turkish Airlines daily scheduled flights to Tripoli, seven more planes are on standby in case it is permitted to fly to Benghazi airport or make additional flights to Tripoli." Since Saturday, Turkey has evacuated 2,100 citizens from Libya, the foreign ministry said.

[BAHRAIN, 2:10 a.m. ET, 10:10 a.m. local] Bahrain has released between 23 and 25 high-profile political detainees, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said Wednesday.

Earlier this week, the kingdom ordered the release of a number of prisoners and closed cases against several Shiite leaders accused of plotting against the kingdom.

[LIBYA, 2:03 a.m. ET, 9:03 a.m. local] Libya's ex-interior minister who resigned his role to support anti-government protesters has been kidnapped, state media reported  Wednesday.

Abdul Fattah Younis al Abidi told CNN that he resigned Monday after hearing that 300 unarmed civilians had been killed in Benghazi. He accused Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi of planning to attack civilians on a wide scale.

But hours later, state media reported that "gangs" in Libya's second-largest city, Benghazi, had kidnapped him.

[LIBYA, 10:25 p.m. ET, 5:25 a.m. local] Via Twitter, the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs says U.S. citizens wishing to leave Libya should go to As-shahab Port as soon as possible after 9 a.m. and arrive no later than 10 a.m.

"U.S. government chartered ferry will depart for Valletta, Malta no later than 3 p.m. on Wednesday," the bureau said via Twitter.

Earlier, a senior administration official told CNN that the State Department is chartering ferries to take Americans from Tripoli's As-shahab port to Valletta, Malta on Wednesday.

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Filed under: Algeria • Bahrain • Egypt • Libya • Tunisia • Yemen
soundoff (381 Responses)
  1. brown

    Oh the ever trusty sanctions regime ... hahaha!

    February 23, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. henry

    I like Hmmmm. Leave Hmmmm alone.

    February 23, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Arlon

    Glad Mr. President spoke as he did. More aggressive wording would have been bad, but more passive wording would have cast doubt with our allies.

    February 23, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Citizen

    Sanctions against Libya? Why? What is Libya doing that Cuba hasn't done for the past 52 years. Obama is the epitomy of hypocrisy. Today Cuba is unleashing its political police and stomping on dissidents and does CNN run an article? Does Obama say a word? No, instead he rewards Cuba with more tourists.

    February 23, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jack

    In the case of Egypt it's true that the US was a long time ally of Mubarak... but Mubarak was not American made... he came from Egypt's military like Nasser and Sadat did before him, was considered a war hero in a war against Israel and became President. America forged an alliance with Egypt in order to help secure peace for Israel, and in return we gave weapons to the Egyptian military. Many top officers in the Egyptian military train in US military academies. Of course we were nice to Mubarak because doing otherwise would have threatened the peace with Israel... He was not a puppet, he was the man in charge of Egypt. US military support meant that Mubarak was safe from foreign enemies and free to rule as he saw fit. US support of the Egyptian military is one reason that Mubarak was able to hold onto power for 30 years... but in terms of his domestic policy in Egypt: it was not US dictated – mubarak fiercely resisted even gentle prodding about human rights issues behind the scenes. To make an alliance with Egypt we talked to the leaders of Egypt – you don't make friends with a foreign government by calling on its people to overthrow their leaders, even if after it happens we view it as a very positive thing. People that say we should have opposed all dictators from the start: doing that a few years ago would not be seen as us being a 'friend of the people', it would be seen as being an enemy of the state of Egypt... as turning our back on 'Egypt.' That is why a legitimate revolution can only come from within... in the future it will be the same as the past, diplomatic relations come from meetings between the leadership of two countries, but also in the future Egyptians will hopefully have leadership that represents them!

    February 23, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • El

      Egypt was a special case. The US was essentially footing the bill for the Egyptian military, paying them about $2 billion a year to maintain peace, and making them one of the best paid military forces in the world. This gave the US a lot of leverage in forcing Mubarak out; note that the people that took over were the same people that have been paid for by the US for years. Unfortunately, in Libya we have no such leverage. Instead of the rational, business-like Mubarak, the world must instead deal with the stubborn, vengeful, borderline psychotic Gadhafi. This will not go well for the many Libyans tired of his tyrannical rule. Many more will die before they achieve their freedom, but inevitably freedom will prevail - and all without the US trying to force it on them like they did in Afghanistan and Iraq!

      February 23, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tom

    How exactly are sanctions going to do anything? He is under the threat of being overrun by his own people, I doubt he cares that sanctions might come down IF this blows over. Seems like a "we should probably do SOMETHING" approach rather than trying to actually help.

    February 23, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bryant

    Oil companies. I swear if a single oil pump stops anywhere in the World the oil prices sky rocket. Ridiculous!!!

    February 23, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. pablito

    Are you a woman hmmmmmmm?

    February 23, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Zeta

    Yes, but wouldn't the US bombing Libya and killing innocent people be the same thing Gadhafi is doing?

    February 23, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. tonyL

    It is our moral obligation as the only world's super power, as we claim, to speak up against the killings of innocent people regardless where ever they may be getting killed in this world. So far we HAVE NOT hesitated to interfere in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and others countries in the middle east. We have troops stationed all over middle east interfering in the affairs of all the nations, looking out for our interests. It's way past time to get on the peoples side instead of the dictators and despots. So far we have supported the dictators just because we can take advantage of these nations by bribing their leaders and giving them protection so they can stay in power to ruthlessly kill and torture their own people.

    February 23, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Salam Al-Omaishi (Iraqi)

    I can't believe the US government and the United Nations would even consider sanctions. Didn't we see this nightmare before in Iraq just after the Gulf War? Sanctions against a dictator in charge of an oil country end up hurting the people way more then the regime. In fact, they end up assisting the regime. Right after the Gulf War, the opposition groups controlled more then 80% of the country. Saddam was losing and was about to be ousted by his own people. Then the International Community in their infinite wisdom decided to impose sanctions on the Saddam Hussein regime. Consequently, this ended up helping Saddam regain control since the opposition was relying on guns, ammunition, and supplies to fight the regime. Without this aid they were crushed by Saddam's armies. Thousands of children died because of the sanctions that were imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War. Its something that Osama Bin Laden talks about till this very day. International Community need to stay out of this politically and speak up publicly. If sanctions are imposed on the Libyan government I can assure you the people will suffer.

    February 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • toomuchgovernment

      Obammy hasn't seen the ball since the kick-off...he will do everything he can to bring the USA down and this is another way. you are correct in your summary.

      February 23, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bryant

      Well the US does not want to be seen by the people as doing nothing. The US does not want to send troops so Obama will send a sternly worded letter (hah) and impose sanctions. The Middle East in general is still very backwards and until the last few years the people in the Middle East are becoming more informed via the WWW. I too would be extremely frustrated if the majority of the wealth went to a dictator and his minions while the countries infrastructure is a mess, unemployment % is horrendous, and Gadhafi is running around looking like the king of Zamunda (Coming to America). Of course the oil industry is going to boost price of oil. Close one friggin oil pump anywhere in the World and the oil prices skyrocket...laughable.

      February 23, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Theo

    Sanctions? let them have their revolution. Let them all have their revolutions and decide for themselves what type of government they want. Sounds like Osama's getting pressure from the oil companies.

    February 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sue R

    Sanctions are useless. They will hurt the people we least want to hurt and that's the Libyan people. We need to find a way to remove Ghadafi and his dynasty and cronies. Please no sanctions, they will not hurt Ghadafi but the man in the street will find his life even more difficult.

    February 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. pablito

    Because I like men.

    February 23, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Prof Ramesh Manghirmalani

    Sanctions ? This is not the way to behave like a child, Sanctions have never worked every one and most of the people are very intelligent, Has Sanctioned against any one worked ? Despite the ubiquity of the term "alliance of convenience," the dynamics of these especially tenuous alliances have not been systematically explored by scholars or policymakers. An alliance of convenience is the initiation of security cooperation between ideological and geopolitical adversaries in response to an overarching third-party threat; they are conceptually different from other types of alliances. Neorealist, two-level games, and neoclassical realist theories all seek to explain the outcome of intra-alliance bargaining between the United States and allies of convenience since 1945. America has strange bedfellows .

    – Sanctions never succeed in fulling cutting off a dictator. For years while the people of N. Korea have starved, the regime there has been eating the finest food.

    – Trade and engagement are one solution. By helping the poor in a country forces of reform are strengthened. Cultural engagement shows average citizens that the West cares and wants to offer help. The West must project an image that is different than the portrait authoritarian leaders paint of it.

    – Sanctions only hurt the poor people who are already being crushed by the authoritarian regime that rules their country.

    – Iran's regime uses the sanctions for propaganda purposes. The lower class in Iran have been hurt by the regimes terrible economic practices but this can be spun as the "Imperialists" hurting the poor. This also makes Ahmadinejad's use of food-patronage even more effective.

    – Sanctions are another U.N. policy that doesn't work but placates the consciences of people in Western countries but yields the opposite result as intended.

    February 23, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
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