Anti-government demonstrations gripped several countries in the Middle East in early 2011, and protests in Libya followed those in Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain. The crackdown by the government in Libya, however, was the most vicious. The protesters took to the streets on Feb. 16 in Benghazi, the country"s second-largest city, demanding that Qaddafi step down. The next day, declared the Day of Rage, saw the number of demonstrations burgeon throughout the country. Security forces began firing on protesters, and by Feb. 20 Human Rights Watch estimated that as many as 200 people had been killed by troops. Several government officials and diplomats defected, and members of the military joined the ranks of the opposition as the government attacks on civilians grew increasingly brutal. Some reports had fatalities numbering near 1,000 or more. Qaddafi refused to resign, but offered to double the salaries of public workers and freed some Islamic militants from jail. Protesters dismissed the move as a hollow gesture and continued their actions throughout the country. Qaddafi enlisted the help of mercenaries as the number of defections by troops swelled. He cast blame for the uprising on the West, which he claimed wants to assume control of Libya"s oil, and Islamic radicals who want to expand their base.
On Feb. 27, the UN Security Council voted to impose sanctions on Qaddafi and several of his close advisers. The sanctions included an arms embargo on Libya, a travel ban on Qaddafi and other leaders, and the freezing of Qaddafi"s assets. The Security Council also requested that the International Criminal Court investigate reports of "widespread and systemic attacks" on citizens. The UN sanctions followed unilateral action by the U.S., and the European Union also sanctioned Libya. By Feb. 28, rebels had taken control of Benghazi and Misurata and were closing in on Tripoli. The rebels organized a military and formed an executive committee, the Transitional National Council, illustrating that they could establish a