By Sami Zaptia.
Tripoli, 16 November 2013:
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan this morning, backtracked on, or changed the stress, of the statement . . .[restrict]he made yesterday on the aftermath of the deaths and casualties caused by gunfire during a demonstration at the base of an armed militia in the Tripoli suburb of Gharghour.
This morning, Zeidan said that now that the government had obtained “more information” he condemned the firing yesterday on the “peaceful” civilian demonstration by the armed group. Moreover, Zeidan today confirmed that the demonstration was encouraged and approved by the government.
Zeidan stressed that if it was understood yesterday “otherwise” by his statement, “it should not be” so.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister, came out with what was seen by many as a weak and confused, if not confusing message, probably reflecting the government’s lack of a full knowledge on the details of the day’s incident.
In that statement, given at a lengthy press conference, Zeidan seemed to direct his anger and blame at Tripoli Local Council head Sadat Badri and the media, and seemed to lay some blame on the demonstrators. He said yesterday that the demonstration was “approved” to demonstrate only in front of the Al-Quds mosque, but not beyond.
However, in yesterday’s statement, Zeidan seemed to direct little blame on the Gharghour-based Misrata militia. This stance had attracted much criticism towards the Prime Minister from numerous commentators and analysts.
Whilst commentators accepted that some of the demonstrators may have easily been armed, and that they might have opened fire first, or that they may have been infiltrated by some wishing to inflame the situation. Nevertheless, it was felt that if the overwhelming majority of the deaths were caused by fire from the militias, it was uncalled for in scope and depth to justify a self-defence argument.
Equally, many commentators saw Zeidan’s statement yesterday as weak and a lost opportunity. Many felt that Zeidan could have politically grabbed the unfortunate incident, and capitalized on public support, opinion and sentiment, as an opportunity to push forward his government’s policy of ridding the capital of all armed groups and forcing them to conscript as individuals, not groups, to the official security forces.
Many felt he had misjudged the depth of public sentiment yesterday, and that he did not have his finger on the political pulse of the nation.
Moreover, some critics were also perturbed by Zeidan’s mixed and confusing messages and his attempt to lay the blame on everyone else but himself. Critics on various TV and radio stations reminded Zeidan that it was he who during his Sunday press conference that called upon the general public to march on Ibrahim Judran at the oil terminals in eastern Libya and liberate them.
It will be recalled that Prime Minister Ali Zeidan had called upon the general, civilian and unarmed public to confront Ibrahim Judran and his militias who are blockading most of Libya’s oil exports.
Speaking at that press conference, Zeidan had called on the country’s support over the deepening oil crisis, saying: “Women, children, men and even old people should support the government and go to the oil ports and terminals to liberate them from the criminals and protect their only sustenance,” Zeidan said.
The Prime Minister had said that if armed groups were to be sent to confront Judran, he would probably fire at them, but that he was very unlikely to fire at unarmed civilians. He went on to say that surely even they would not fire on unarmed civilians?
“If the public rise against them, they will move out”, he had said.
In view of Zeidan’s call for the public to March on the oil terminals, it was therefore felt that Zeidan’s attempt to say that yesterday’s demonstrators were authorized and therefore legitimate to demonstrate in front of the Al-Quds mosque, and therefore should not have marched on to the Gharghour barracks, was somewhat disingenuous and if not hypocritical.
Why was it legitimate for Prime Minister Ali Zeidan to call upon (some would say incite) the general public to march on Ibrahim Judran at the oil terminals, yet it was not legitimate for the general public to march on militias present in Tripoli, against government policy and GNC law (27)?
It is not clear whether overnight Zeidan had reacted to some of that criticism and reassessed his stance, or if it was a genuine case of the dust clearing and the authorities obtaining further and clearer information on the incident.
Whatever the case, in this morning’s statement, Zeidan set the record straight, declaring the demonstration peaceful, meaning that it was unarmed, and called for all armed groups to leave the capital as per GNC law 27 (2013).