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Gaddafi plays hardball with his people

Gaddafi plays hardball with his people
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As the violence spreads across Libya, strongman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s has vowed that he will not bow to pressure from the street to step down

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The unprecedented challenge to his four-decade rule of the oil rich North african nation has been inspired by pro-democracy movements elsewhere in the region.

But while neighbouring governments in Egypt and Tunisia appeared to offer some concessions to protesters calling for greater freedoms, Gaddafi has refused to negotiate, denouncing them as “terrorists.”

Human Rights Watch says at least 233 people have been killed since last Thursday, while the Paris-based International federation for Human Rights puts the death toll closer to 400.

The military has been deployed to crackdown on the unrest although there are some reports of regiments defecting to join the protests.

The Gaddafi regime has said the violence could out the country’s vast oil wealth at risk

Libya’s vast oil and gas reserves account for up to 90 percent of its revenues, giving the country some of the highest living standards on the African continent.

The unrest has pushed the price of crude up to its highest price since 2008.

International oil firms, such as Italy’s ENI, are now preparing to pull their staff out of the country.

Italy is a key foreign investor in Libya after the two countries signed a friendship treaty to deepen their economic ties over two years ago.

But PM Silvio Berlusconi has refused to use that leverage to seek concessions from Gaddafi.