Qaddafi Loses Control of East As WikiLeaks Cables Reveal Sons’ Lavish Spending

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Libya looks to be splitting in two. Soldiers in the east are saying they no longer back Muammar Qaddafi as the region appears to be in the hands of the protesters. General Soliman Mahmoud al-Obeidy, who joined the growing ranks of Qaddafi dissenters, told Reuters, "He bombs with airplanes and uses excessive force against unarmed people. I am sure he will fall in the coming few days." Hours after another former ally, Libya's interior minister, resigned, the Libyan government claimed he had been kidnapped by "gangs" in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city and another stronghold under protesters' control. In a television interview prior to his "kidnapping," the former minister, Abdul Fattah Younis al Abidi, said, "[Qaddafi] told me he was planning on using airplanes against the people in Benghazi, and I told him that he will have thousands of people killed if he does that." Today, Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini confirmed that suspicion, pegging the death toll from Libya's unrest at more than 1,000 civilians. Frattini also expressed worries about the rise in “Islamic radicalism” and “the rise of an Islamic emirate” in the east now that it's no longer under the government's control.

Critics have been calling on Silvio Berlusconi to use his close ties with Libya, which supplies much of Italy's natural gas, to pressure Qaddafi to stop the violence. Frattini added, “This radical Islamism worries us because it is only a few hundred kilometers from the European Union,” the Italian government's most forceful statement to date. Italy is also warning its 350,000 citizens working in Libya to evacuate to avoid a "civil war." French president Nicolas Sarkozy, meanwhile, is calling for Europe to adopt sanctions, freeze assets, and institute travel bans against Libya. Although the White House has called the violence "appalling" and said the Libyan government "bears responsibility," the Obama administration continues to hold back from rebuking Qaddafi personally.

In the past 24 hours, WikiLeaks has released three additional cables that the New York Times says "offer a vivid account of the lavish spending, rampant nepotism and bitter rivalries that have defined what a 2006 cable called 'Qadhafi Incorporated.'" The dictator's children were all the beneficiaries of income streams from the National Oil Company. What did they do with their wealth and power? Hire American pop stars like Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, and Usher to perform at New Year's parties in St. Barts, build their own militia, and cover up domestic abuse.

Exclusive: Tobruk celebrates, Libya's east abandons Gaddafi [Reuters]
WikiLeaks Cables Detail Qaddafi Family’s Exploits [NYT]
Libya: Ex-official kidnapped; interior minister said he resigned [CNN]
Italy Says Death Toll in Libya Likely More Than 1,000 [NYT]