Libya conflict: Q&A
- 20 October 2011
- From the section Africa
Libya's long-time leader Col Muammar Gaddafi has been killed in his home town of Sirte, officials say, by forces who have been trying to topple him since February, with the backing of Western and Arab nations.
Why did people want to oust Col Gaddafi?
He ruled Libya with an iron fist since he seized power in a 1969 coup. Students were forced to study his political theories, as set out in his Green Book. Political parties were banned and his critics imprisoned, tortured and on some occasions killed. After the overthrow of the leaders of Libya's neighbours, Tunisia and Egypt, some Libyans staged protests in February to demand change. But Col Gaddafi's government used overwhelming force against the demonstrators in Tripoli and then started to move on the second city, Benghazi, where the rebels had seized control.
Why did other countries intervene?
It was feared that an assault on Benghazi, a city of a million people, would be brutal. Over the years, Col Gaddafi had fallen out with both his neighbours and the West, although he had bankrolled many African leaders. The Arab League asked the United Nations to intervene to protect the civilians in Benghazi. In March, the UN Security Council passed a resolution which authorised "all necessary measures" - except troops on the ground - to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians. Nato planes then started bombing government forces, who retreated from the outskirts of Benghazi.
So was Nato backing the opposition?
Nato officials strongly deny that they acted as the "opposition's air force" or even that they had direct contact with them. However, reporters noted that pro-Gaddafi forces in front of rebel positions would often be bombed, making the advance of the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters much easier. Since Tripoli fell in August, the UK has confirmed that Nato was providing "intelligence and reconnaissance" to help the NTC track down Col Gaddafi. Earlier, the French admitted giving weapons to the rebels, while other countries have provided training and logistical support to the NTC, who are mostly civilians. Both Western and Arab leaders openly said they wanted Col Gaddafi to go.
Why did it take so long?
It took five months after the Nato air strikes began before rebel forces entered Tripoli. Col Gaddafi's forces were a real army with heavy weapons, while the rebels were mostly untrained civilians who had managed to get hold of some light arms such as AK-47s. It took a while for the bombing campaign to significantly reduce the government's military advantage and for the rebels to be organised into a proper fighting force. In the end, they advanced on Tripoli from three fronts, surrounding the coastal city, where they were met by jubilant crowds. Many were surprised at how little resistance they met outside the capital.
What happens now?
Col Gaddafi's death should mark the end of the fighting. The NTC said that when Col Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte fell, as it has, it would declare Libya fully "liberated". It would then name a new government within a month, while the transitional authority would resign. But it faces a challenge reining in different military groups and limiting rivalries between potentially competing interests and allegiances, including Islamists, moderates and those who want to see a secular state. Without the unifying goal of ousting Col Gaddafi, there are fears that interim authorities could start arguing among themselves. The NTC wants a national congress elected within eight months, and multi-party elections in 2013. Meanwhile, the new rulers have to try to improve the lives of ordinary Libyans and avoid the post-revolution disillusionment seen in Egypt and Tunisia. To do this they will need money.
Where will the funds come from?
The rebels' National Transitional Council's (NTC) says it is seeking $2.5bn (£1.5bn) in immediate aid. An estimated $53bn of assets were frozen during the conflict - but it can take time for them to be unfrozen. A UN sanctions committee has agreed to release $500m of frozen assets to humanitarian agencies. But South Africa, which led the African initiative to find a diplomatic solution to the Libyan conflict, has blocked releasing a further $1bn, saying it wants to wait for guidance from the African Union. Col Gaddafi was one of the main founders of the AU and its key financial backer. South Africa cannot block the unfreezing of the rest of Libya's assets indefinitely, as it has no veto at the UN Security Council. The Arab League, however, has now given its full backing to the NTC, which may lead to more countries offering aid.