Libyan justice minister resigns as pressure builds on Gaddafi

The most senior resignation yet highlights internal tensions within the government.

Events in Libya remain uncertain; there were reports this morning that Colonel Gaddafi had left Tripoli for his home town of Sirt or his desert base of Sabha, but we've heard little since.

One concrete development is the resignation of the justice minister, Mustafa Mohamed Abud al-Jeleil, who stepped down over the "excessive use of violence against government protesters". One naturally takes issue with the use of the word "excessive" (would a reduced level of violence be acceptable?) but his resignation is a sign that parts of the Libyan establishment have turned firmly against Gaddafi.

Al-Jeleil is the most senior official to resign so far. He joins the country's ambassadors to the Arab League, India and China.

Gaddafi's fate is likely to depend on the position of the armed forces. Will they refuse to obey orders, or even cross lines and join the demonstrators? It's too early to say, but resignations such as al-Jeleil's add to the pressure for "restraint". It is the army that will determine whether this is Libya's 1956 or its 1989.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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