Feb 25: Demonstrations in Tripoli, airbase possibly overrun

Demonstrators in Tripoli showing extraordinary bravery today. Some of the reports suggest that protesters are able to assemble in the eastern suburb of Tajoura, indicating that Qaddafi no longer has the manpower to really dominate his own capital. Some marchers appear to have been met by troops who shot to kill, others by troops who fired in the air. Al Jazeera reports that Mitiga airbase, the major military airbase in the capital, was overrun by demonstrators with help from air force officers. They sabotaged planes, but did not attempt to hold the base. This again indicates that regime forces are stretched thin.

As before, my best guess as to the status of Libyan towns can be found here.

UPDATE: Libya 17th February has posted quite a number of clips of the day’s demonstrations, especially in Tripoli. The numbers of protesters are quite small, probably the congregations from neighborhood mosques, but presumably also this is taking place all over the city. They are fired upon. It sounds like just a few gunmen are doing the shooting, maybe even one or two. Not all the gunmen may be shooting to kill, but some are — there are terrible pictures of casualties. In one video the protesters scatter but do not retreat. They keep together and in one case take cover, continuing to confront the gunmen. (“Don’t retreat, just hide, don’t retreat.”) Similar footage can be seen from Benghazi from earlier in the week. This pins down the gunmen, pulls them away from installations which they need to defend (like Mitiga). It also wears down their morale. If they have any sort of bond with the protesters, they might be tempted to defect. If they are mercenaries, and have no sense of connection at all with the city, they may themselves become afraid and start looking for a means of escape. It requires deep commitment and courage to brave the gunfire, but some observers of revolutions have noted that crowds can become braver over time — at first people fear being shot, but once they see their friends killed, they become more ready to take the same risk for the same cause. We don’t really know how many marchers came out today, and we don’t know if they’re still out there. Qaddafi may be able to drive them back in again by a truly fearsome display of firepower or force. But this may be the mechanism by which he loses control of the capital.

There is one video of some of the gunmen — a group of between seven and ten “mercenaries” in a a group of civilian vehicles, who may be driving from spot to spot to break up knots of marchers. (The video shows them dragging a wounded protester into a truck). To me they have a look of a security or intelligence force, but it’s very difficult to tell.

From Zawiya meanwhile there is an amazing picture of the main square filled with people, praying under the 1951 flag.

UPDATE #2: AP reports that a regime armored column (reported 12+ hours earlier by phoners-in to several sites) arrived at Misrata airbase and attacked, recapturing part of the base. It is not particularly encouraging to see that the regime still can assemble a column that can be used offensively. The earlier reports had described a force of 300 armored vehicles, which may be an overcount but which nonetheless suggests a sizeable force which intends to retake the city, rather than simply carry out a punitive raid such as the one in Zawiya (in the other direction from Tripoli) yesterday.

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