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Arm us to save us: Libyan ex-prisoner appeals

With rebels on the retreat, Libya's longest-serving political prisoner is calling on the world to arm the revolt against Moamer Kadhafi, comparing their plight to resistance against the Nazis.

Ahmed al-Zubair al-Senussi, a member of Libya's royal family in his 70s was jailed for 31 years for plotting to overthrow Kadhafi. He still bears the scars of torture and cannot bear to think what will happen if the rebels fail.

"I call upon the world to help with any support possible, as fast as possible, and to put words into action," Senussi told AFP over mint tea and petits fours at a family home in Libya's de facto rebel capital Benghazi.

"We need weapons and whatever support we can get. We'll do the fighting, but we need support," he said. "Our aim now is to save our people."

"I'm calling on the Security Council to help defenceless and unarmed people in Libya against this dark regime. We want actions, not discussions."

The rebel leadership was overjoyed when France recognised it as the rightful representative of Libya, but panic rose in Benghazi on Sunday as Kadhafi's forces swept closer towards Benghazi, inflicting further defeats on the rebels.

For a man who spent a lifetime behind bars experiencing first-hand the brutality of the Kadhafi regime, there is only one piece of advice.

"They need to be united and to be patient, because victory comes with patience. Proof of that was the British, or the French resistance in World War II," he says, wrapped in a brown embroidered gown.

For Senussi, today's uprising means the torture, three decades on death row and nine years in solitary confinement that he endured were not wasted.

"This revolution is the result of all the revolutions that failed during the last 42 years. This truly blessed revolution has surprised the world.

"I was surprised," he confessed with a smile, "that a peaceful protest changed into a revolution that the whole world has learnt about."

After his arrest in 1970, years of torture make him physically incapable of taking part in the demonstrations on the Benghazi seafront, but he has been appointed to the national council as responsible for prisoner affairs.

A special military tribunal sentenced him to death in 1972 and jailed three co-conspirators, including his brother. For the next nine years, he was kept in solitary confinement. He saw no daylight and saw no visitors.

Senussi says he was beaten with sticks, strung up by his hands and legs, repeatedly nearly drowned and that his feet were broken.

Then there was the psychological torture of expecting execution at any waking moment.

During that time, his wife died, his mother died and his uncles died. "No one knew anything about me, whether I was dead or alive."

"Until I was pardoned in 2001, every time the cell door opened, I thought I was going to be taken to be executed," he said.

"I couldn't tell if it was morning, afternoon or night. I spent most of my time praying. If you believe in your cause, you can get through anything."

The food was awful. Sometimes it was just slop. If there was meat, the guards would take it and substitute a bucket of water. Sometimes they handed out a jar of marmalade for 25 people, you would get a spoon or half a spoon.

"I lost a lot of weight. I still have pains in my back and legs. I have problems with my eyesight and blood pressure," said Senussi.

"The first time that Kadhafi allowed my family to visit and the first time I saw daylight was in 1988."

In August 2001, he was pardonned on the occasion of the 32nd anniversary of Kadhafi's revolution and given 131,000 Libyan dinars ($107,300, 77,200 euros in today's money) compensation, with a monthly pension of 400 dinars.

Since the uprising began in mid-February, cutting off much of eastern Libya from the capital Tripoli, he has received only half his pension.

Despite being the great nephew of King Idriss al-Senussi, Libya's first head of state upon independence in 1951, he remains a republican at heart and does not see a place for his family to again rule Libyans.

Back in 1970, he plotted to give people a choice between restoring the monarchy or replacing Kadhafi with a republican constitution.

Today he sees no alternative. "A republic is better, because people want to share authority and not have it invested in one family or one person," he said.

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