Jubilation turns to fear in Tripoli as military turns on protesters 

As late as Sunday night, activists in Libya's capital of Tripoli thought they were poised to chase aging strongman Moammar Gadhafi from the country much as Egyptians had routed Hosni Mubarak, and with only slightly more bloodshed.

Abu Sulaimane, an activist who was witnessing the events, told The Washington Examiner in a phone interview, "We are happy now. The army is not in control. The people are standing up for what they believe."

But another opposition member reached by phone on Monday painted a grimmer picture. "Masked men are shooting and killing people," said the Libyan, who asked for anonymity to avoid retribution. "Many people are staying indoors." He described gunmen setting buildings ablaze and firing into crowds of protesters. News reports said military jets were firing on protesters, and that hundreds had been killed.

The ugly turn of events in Libya indicated that the cost of the tide of revolution sweeping the Islamic world may be higher than it appeared after relatively bloodless coups in Tunisia and Egypt.

But experts said the events in Libya were unlikely to stem the tide of change in the region.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official who headed the Obama administration's Afghanistan-Pakistan review and has traveled in the region recently, said Yemen and Libya are just the beginning.

"As Gadhafi's terror regime ends in violence, the question in the Arab world is not who's next but who will survive?" he said.

Human rights organizations reported Monday that numerous members of Gadhafi's own party had resigned, labeling the dictator's actions genocide.

Elsewhere, protests continued to put pressure on tottering governments. In Yemen, one of the poorest nations in the world, President Ali Abdullah Saleh refused Monday to heed the demands of protesters that he leave office.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who has been nominated to be chief assistant to the national intelligence director and who recently served as the top intelligence officer in Afghanistan, said the situation in North Africa and the Middle East is a "tectonic shift" that has little historical precedence. Speaking at the Institute of World Politics in Washington on Friday, Flynn said people are underestimating the economic issues underlying the regionwide protests. While freedom is the goal of some, many more are motivated by what they see as unfair distribution of wealth. That gives additional force to the uprising, Flynn said.

"Many of these countries have social and economic situations that are similar to those that fueled the protests in places like Tunisia and Egypt," said one high-ranking U.S. official. "But it's worth keeping in mind that each of the countries in the region is very different politically. They all have their own historical precedents for political activity and popular protest." Still, experts said it was impossible to judge how events will transpire. "It would be premature to predict some sort of regionwide domino effect," said one U.S. official.

And it was also premature to say what will happen in Libya. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Monday that the U.S. is "gravely concerned with disturbing reports and images coming out of Libya."

The U.S. is "working to ascertain the facts" but had received "multiple credible reports" of hundreds killed in recent unrest there, he added.

A North African official told The Washington Examiner that "Gadhafi can feel the pressure and realizes that he may not survive." The official, who asked not to be named, said, "There may be a split in his military -- those who support him and those who don't."

A Libyan opposition member told The Washington Examiner in a phone interview that "There is no telling how far Gadhafi will go. He is desperate -- desperate -- and his son is as bad as he is."

Throughout the day, international wire services issued reports of Gadhafi's whereabouts, only to be contradicted hours later. The British foreign minister suggested he had fled to Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez is a friend. Later in the day, reports suggested he was still in Tripoli.

Other reports suggested that mercenaries were hired by the Gadhafi government to kill protesters and activists. But several Libyan eyewitnesses who spoke to The Washington Examiner over the past two days said that Libyan army outposts in some parts of the region were abandoned or controlled by the opposition. "The army is no more in certain areas," Abu Sulaimane said in a phone interview. "The people are in the streets and they will not stop until Gadhafi is gone. Many people have died."

Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner's national security correspondent. She can be reached at scarter@washingtonexaminer.com.

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