Moammar Gadhafi of Libya looked firmly in control when popular protests brought down the autocratic ruler in Tunisia to the west and toppled another long-running regime in Egypt to the east weeks ago. Even when angry residents of some Libyan cities stormed into the construction sites of Korean firms, injuring workers and destroying furniture, it was seen as a simple outburst of discontent at the government’s housing policy.
But the contagious effect of pro-democracy fever proved so powerful that Libya plunged into nationwide unrest in just a week and became the scene of the worst bloodshed in the current turmoil sweeping Northeast Africa and the Middle East. The New York-based Human Rights Watch reported at least 233 Libyans were killed in clashes between protesters and security forces as of Monday. Al-Jazeera reported that air strikes on demonstrators left 250 dead in Tripoli.
Since the Dong-A and Daewoo Groups, both defunct now, took part in major public work projects such as the Great Man-Made River irrigation system in the 1980s, Korea has had close economic ties with the oil-rich Arab nation. At present, some 1,000 Koreans live and work in Libya. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade hurriedly formed an emergency countermeasures team to help the Korean residents in Libya planning a swift evacuation by air.
The chaotic situation in the OPEC-member country is causing jitters in the global energy market. Oil prices rose $1.67 to nearly $88 per barrel Monday amid investor concern and clear prediction is impossible given the continuing unrest in the oil-producing region. The authorities here need to make extensive reviews of the rapid developments in diverse sectors to minimize any adverse impact on the Korean economy.
The Arab people have been awakened to their social and political rights after decades of repression under dictatorial and monarchical rulers. The revolts that started at the beginning of this year portend extended upheaval. The worst outcome can be civil war, as Gadhafi’s son Saif warned in defiance of the protesters’ demand for an end to his father’s 42-year rule. We see long, hard days ahead until democracy finally settles in the region.