'Die, Gadhafi': Libya's embassies abroad defect

August 24, 2011 - 10:40 AM
Philippines Libya

Libyan expatriates and embassy personnel celebrate with the rebel flag which was used by the Kingdom of Libya before Moammar Gadhafi's 40-year rule Wednesday Aug. 24, 2011 at the Libyan Embassy at suburban Makati city, east of Manila, Philippines. Libyan diplomats and expatriates gathered at their embassy Wednesday to announce they have withdrawn support from Gadhafi following the Libyan rebels entry into Tripoli and the storming of Gadhafi's fortified compound. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Libyan diplomats and students smashed portraits of Moammar Gadhafi, shouted "Game over!" and raised the rebel flag at their Manila embassy Wednesday as part of defections at missions worldwide underscoring the leader's rapid fall.

As rebels stormed the Libyan capital and Gadhafi's power and influence abroad crumbled, Libyan Consul Faraj Zarroug in the Philippine capital said about 85 percent of his country's 165 diplomatic missions now recognized the interim rebel government, the National Transitional Council.

"It's game over for Mr. Gadhafi!" Zarroug told The Associated Press. "Probably in a few days, everything will be over, hopefully. I'm very happy."

In London, opposition Libyan officials rolled out a new doormat Wednesday bearing Gadhafi's image so that visitors to his rebel-held embassy could trample over his portrait as they entered the building.

Libyan diplomats abroad have been pledging allegiance to the rebels gradually after the rebellion erupted nearly six months ago, but defections surged this week as rebels entered Tripoli in a stunning breakthrough. While missions to Switzerland and Bangladesh, for example, switched early on, Libyan embassy officials in Japan and Ethiopia replaced the government flag with the rebel's tricolor on Monday.

A spokesman for the rebels in Dubai, Edward Marques, said Wednesday the defections had turned into a "cascade," but declined to list the locations of rebel supporters. The Libyan government could no longer be reached for comment.

"The situation is very, very fluid," Marques said.

At the Manila mission, diplomats in business suits pulled down Gadhafi's green flag and raised the rebel one, while young expatriates rampaged through the compound.

AP journalists were invited in to watch and film them smashing glass portraits and ripping up copies of Gadhafi's slogan-filled Green Book outlining his political philosophy.

Students spat on the ripped pages, and shouted "Die, Gadhafi, Die!" or "Leave, Ghadafi, Leave!" or "Game over!"

"We can say what we want. No one can stop us!" said Mahmoud Binhafa, a 29-year-old student who was nearly breathless with excitement. "We want like, you know, freedom to be happy, to say whatever we want."

Asked how they wanted Gadhafi to be punished, Libyan Elyosa Fathi Elgadag said each family that suffered during the Libyan leader's long oppressive rule should be allowed to "do to him" what his regime did to many victims of human rights violations.

For decades, the world has only equated Libya with Gadhafi and not known anything about its people because his regime "didn't let any Libyan to open his mouth," Elgadag said. Now, he said, all Libyans can speak out and proudly tell their nation's story to the world.

Libya's deputy U.N. ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi was among the first diplomats to renounce Gadhafi and support the rebels on Feb. 21 and four days later Ambassador Mohamed Shalgham also denounced the Libyan leader, a longtime friend. Gadhafi tried unsuccessfully to send supporters to replace them, and this week the red, green and black flag adopted by the opposition was prominently displayed next to the U.N. flag in the lobby of Libya's U.N. Mission in New York.

Libya's embassy in Argentina switched to the rebel side on Tuesday and replaced its flag. Ambassador Abdulkadir Eljer said embassy staff also burned pictures of Gadafi along with his famous Green Book. "We'd like to know where he's hiding," Eljer added.

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Libyan ambassador to the African Union, Ali Awidan, said he raised the new rebel flag Monday. "I was not serving Gadhafi, I have been serving Libya," he said.

In the Zimbabwean capital Harare, singing and chanting Libyan protesters dragged down the green flag of Gadhafi's regime hanging from an office building housing the embassy and replaced it with the rebel banner. The embassy in the southern African country has been closed for weeks.

Some impatient Libyans opposed to Gadhafi moved to force their embassies to switch sides.

A group of Libyans briefly took over their embassy in the Bosnian capital on Monday, raising the rebel flag and demanding that the ambassador resign before police removed them peacefully. On Wednesday, Ambassador Salem Finnir told The AP that his embassy has gone to the rebel side.

"I ... put myself and the embassy at their disposal," he said, referring to the interim rebel leadership.

"I hope that soon the bloodshed will be over and that peace, democracy and prosperity will rule our beloved country Libya," he said, as his two sons raised the new flag on the embassy roof.

Rebel supporters barged into a Libyan consulate and adjoining school earlier this week in Athens, ripping up hundreds of posters of Gadhafi and hanging rebel flags. Police stood guard at the nearby Libyan Embassy, which had no flags and shuttered windows.

Britain, which had already expelled a number of Gadhafi diplomats suspected of intimidating dissidents, ordered the entire staff of Libya's embassy to leave last month, turning the swank downtown building over to opposition officials. Protesters have demonstrated outside the building for several weeks, heckling pro-regime diplomats and waving rebel flags.

The Libyan ambassador to Turkey, Ziad Muntasser, told the country's Cumhuriyet newspaper he had backed the rebels for six months but did not publicly reveal his defection because he feared for his family's safety in Tripoli.

"I reject accusations that I am Gadhafi's man," he said. "I had a private reason: A large section of my family was living in Tripoli which was under Gadhafi's control."

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Associated Press writers Brian Murphy in Dubai, Frank Jordans in Geneva, Luc Van Kemenade in Addis Ababa, Susan Fraser in Ankara, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Aida Cerkez in Sarajevo and David Stringer in London contributed to this report.