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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Libyan Soccer Fans Cheer Gaddafi Son in Tripoli

Soccer fans in Libya, wracked by anti-government protests in which security forces have killed dozens, appear to be playing a very different role from their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia.

If Libyan state-run television is to be believed, some 1,000 fans of Tripoli clubs Al Ahli and Al Ettihad gathered in the Libyan capital’s Green Square to cheer one of Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gaddafi’s son, Saadi.

Saadi toured the square on the roof of a car, waving and shaking the hands of supporters, who chanted “God, Libya and Moammar only.”

The cheering of Saadi, who several years ago imposed himself as a member of Libya’s national team as part of the Gaddafi family’s effort to employ soccer as a form of political and social control, contrasted starkly with events elsewhere in North Africa.

Soccer fans in Egypt and Tunisia played key roles in overthrowing the dictatorships of Messrs. Hosni Mubarak and Zine Abedine Ben Ali.

The cheering of Saadi came as he was put in charge of brutally crushing the revolt in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city 1,000 kilometres east of Tripoli and a centre of the anti-government protests. Many of the deaths in recent days reportedly occurred in Benghazi.

While the Gaddafis traditionally enjoy more of a powerbase in Tripoli than in eastern Libya, it was not immediately clear what persuaded the soccer fans to cheer Saadi Gaddafi. Libyan opposition supporters suggest the fans may not have had a choice, noting that the government keeps a tight political reign on the soccer clubs.

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