Mon, March 21, 2011
World > Africa > War clouds hover over Libya

Backgrounder: Basic facts about war-torn Libya

2011-03-21 06:18:58 GMT2011-03-21 14:18:58(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

BEIJING, March 20 (Xinhua) -- Forces from Western countries, including the United States, France and Britain, Saturday struck targets in areas controlled by Libyan government troops, using warplanes, submarines and aircraft carriers.

The military action was launched hours after a meeting of Western and Arab leaders in Paris on an intervention in the conflict between Libyan government troops and rebels backed by Western nations.

The following is a brief introduction to Libya.

Located in the northern part of the African continent, the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya covers an area of 1,760,000 square km, of which 95 percent is desert or semi-desert. It has a population of about 6,200,000, with Arabs accounting for 90 percent.

The country's official religion is Islam, and Libyan Muslims are mainly Sunnis. Arabic is the official language, with English extensively used. The capital Tripoli is the country's largest port, with a population of nearly 1.7 million. The current head of state is Muammar Gaddafi.

Libya is rich in oil and natural gas, whose proven reserves are 43 billion barrels and 1.48 trillion cubic meters respectively. The oil sector is Libya's economic pillar, accounting for more than 95 percent of the country's annual export revenues. With a vast income from the oil industry, Libya is a high welfare state, with its nationals enjoying free medicare and education.

Libya gained independence in September 1951, after a decade of British and French administration, as a federal monarchy of three regions under King Mohammed Idris. And in 1953 it joined the Arab League.

Gaddafi formed in 1963 the Free Officers Movement, a group of revolutionary army officers, and overthrew King Mohammed Idris on Sept. 1, 1969.

In March 1977, Gaddafi created the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, known as Libya, and established the General People's Congress, People's Committees and Revolutionary Committees.

Since the mid-1980s, Libya has been subject to upgrading sanctions by the United States and the European Union over its alleged terror links.

The country's international relations have been dramatically improved as it agreed to accept responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing. The UN sanctions were lifted after the conclusion of a 2.7-billion-U.S-dollar compensation settlement for the families of the victims in 2003.

In a move that caught the world off guard, Tripoli announced in December 2003 that Libya would abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs and accept more stringent weapon inspections.

Libya, which had been relatively stable under the rule of Gaddafi, has been bogged down in turmoil since February when anti-Gaddafi protests swept cities across the country. The unrest later escalated to a civil war as Gaddafi refused to step down and protesters formed a government in Libya's second largest city of Benghazi.

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