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Heavy price of democracy

THE peaceful -- and still incomplete -- revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were always certain to affect the rest of North Africa and other parts of the Arab world. Much depended, and continues to depend, on the reactions of such groups as the Muslim clergy and the security forces, as well as the governing regimes themselves.

Tragically, events in Libya in these last days have shown the dictator, Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, in his true colours.

Last night, Human Rights Watch estimated the death toll in four days of clashes between demonstrators and the security forces at 173. Gadaffi's regime has not issued any casualty figures, but claimed that the protesters were trying to detach the eastern Cyrenaica region from the rest of the country.

Evidently the regime has taken note of the role played by social networking in Egypt. It has disrupted the internet. Satellite transmissions by Al Jazeera have been jammed, apparently by Libya. In addition, Libya has threatened to stop co-operation with the European Union on the issue of illegal migration if the EU encourages the protests in favour of democracy and human rights.

In the past, notoriously, Gadaffi has used economic inducements to improve relations with the West. This time, there can be no yielding. His 41-year dictatorship must end, as the dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt have ended. If, instead, he succeeds in clinging on, the outlook for his country will be disastrous -- and ominous for all of North Africa.