The World from Berlin 'The West Saw Gadhafi as Indispensable'

The Arab revolution has reached Libya, and European leaders have been condemning Moammar Gadhafi's violent crackdown on protestors. German commentators on Tuesday point out that Europe has grown used to relying on Gadhafi for oil -- and ignoring the nature of his regime.

REUTERS

Amid rumors Monday that he'd fled for Venezuela, and after hours of teasing by broadcasters and government officials that he would give a speech, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi appeared on TV for less than a minute, in the rain, holding an umbrella and sitting in the cab of a truck. It was after midnight, already Tuesday morning. "I wanted to speak with the young people on Green Square and spend the night with them, but then this good rain came," he said, according to the news agency dpa. "I am here to show that I am in Tripoli, not Venezuela. Don't listen to reports by stray dogs."

The exact location of the statement wasn't clear. Gadhafi's hold on power had evidently slipped; but he'd still managed to embarrass a Western politician.

Rumors of His Departure Greatly Exaggerated

On Monday William Hague, the British foreign minister, had said Gadhafi was possibly on his way to Venezuela, where he had good relations with President Hugo Chavez. "I have no information that says he is although I have seen some information that suggests he is on his way there," Hague said after an emergency EU meeting of foreign ministers on Libya.

The EU is struggling to compose a coherent response to the confusion in Libya. On Monday some 150 people reportedly died when government forces fired on crowds of protesters, and Al-Jazeera relayed eyewitness reports that fighter planes had opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in Tripoli. There were similar stories from Benghazi, Libya's second city, which two Libyan air force colonels seemed to confirm when they landed fighter jets in Malta. The pilots said they'd fled a base in eastern Benghazi and refused orders to attack civilians, according to the Associated Press.

The Libyan government denies these reports, and Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, says Libyan planes had only attacked weapons arsenals in remote areas.

'Seek Out a Dialogue With the People'

Because of a news and information blackout, details from Libya are scarce. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined a number of Western leaders on Monday by saying she "strongly condemned" the violence. Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said she was "shocked" by reports on Monday and added, "Our appeal to those politically responsible there is to grant the freedom of assembly to those who want to protest peacefully and to seek out a dialogue with the people."

German commentators on Tuesday are disappointed by the Western response. Across the political spectrum they accuse European leaders of hedging their bets with Gadhafi. His North African nation -- once colonized by Italy -- provides oil to Europe, and Gadhafi has warned his neighbors to the north for years that he might "open the floodgates" of immigrants to the EU if Europe failed to treat him well.

The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"The bizarre 'Colonel,' with his fantasy uniforms, has ruled in Tripoli for 42 years. Now the people are revolting against his violent regime. And Gadhafi has promptly shown his true face. Terror was, and is, his source of power."

"Europeans and Americans, worried about oil, were lulled by Gadhafi in 2003 when he apparently converted from a world pariah to a partner of the West. He swore off terrorism and sought acceptance from the international community. Since then, Libya has become an El Dorado for oil exploration. With this new economic opening, many observers hoped the country would liberalize politically, too. In Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, they even saw a potential successor who could modernize Libya. They were wrong."

The left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The EU has nothing but grotesque theater to offer. Its leaders have largely left any real response to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi … (And Berlusconi) just fans old fears with catchphrases borrowed from Gadhafi himself or his son. Saif al-Islam has threatened to open Libya's borders if the EU opposes the Gadhafi regime."

"Voices in the EU have grown only haltingly. There will be no sanctions against Tripoli. But in the meantime Gadhafi's repressive measures against the protests can no longer be called conventional human-rights abuses. The images and reports emerging from the isolated nation suggest a reaction by the regime that amounts to a crime against humanity."

"After Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, nothing will be the same. The EU has two choices: Either it engages its southern neighbors in eye-to-eye dialogue -- in a true Mediterranean partnership -- or it risks a complete break with the younger North African generation. The time for reconsideration is over."

The left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:

"If one leader could survive the recent storms in the Arab world, it seemed to be Gadhafi, with his broad surveillance apparatus, his elite military units and his bubbling oil wells. That's how it seemed a few days ago. But with their courage … the demonstrators in Benghazi, Tubruq, Derna, Surt, Misurata and Tripoli have taken even this certainty away."

"European politicians have grown used to ranking all their interests -- including human rights -- below an imaginary (regional) security … as if dictatorships in Tunisia and Libya could keep a tighter rein on Islamists than squabbling democracies. Or as if peace with Israel were impossible without torture in Egyptian prisons."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The exodus of international oil firms is an indication of how dramatic things have become in Libya. Even Turkey, which maintains good relations with Tripoli, has called its hundred (oil) workers home. As an oil exporter, Libya holds a different level of interest to the West than Tunisia, which draws so many tourists, or even Egypt. Germany, too, imports oil from the Libyan desert. And Gadhafi has always been a reliable provider. Oil prices have risen already, and now the Europeans need to reassess their relationships to Libya, or indeed all of North Africa. Whatever happens, nothing will be the same."

The conservative daily Die Welt argues:

"Gadhafi started as an Arab nationalist with a socialist vocabulary, and many left-wing types honored him (along with the late far-right Austrian nationalist Jörg Haider), into the '90s, as an 'anti-imperialist' figure. Later, of course, he declared the Arab world unworthy of his pan-Arabic ambitions, and declared himself either the leader of all Africa or the protector of Islamic values. He play his confusing game for four decades, until the West learned to think of him as untouchable -- and indispensable."

"But now he's revealed himself to be a banal criminal, the warlord of a murderous terrorist regime. If Gadhafi survives the rage of his own plundered nation, the West will have no more excuses for its winking complicity with him."

-- SPIEGEL ONLINE Staff

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