'No conflicts.' Gaddafi
Photo: AP
Anti-Gaddafi graffiti in Misrata
Photo: AFP

Gaddafi defiant as Libyan rebels hold western town

Embattled Libyan leader blames foreigners, Qaeda for unrest; several hundred in Zawiyah chant 'we fall of regime'; Clinton says US 'reaching out' to opposition groups

Armed rebels opposed to Muammar Gaddafi were in control of Zawiyah, close to the capital Tripoli, on Sunday as the Libyan leader again vowed to cling on to his 41-year-old rule.


"The people want the fall of the regime," a crowd of several hundred chanted, using the slogan that has echoed across the Arab world in protests against authoritarian rulers.


"This is our revolution," they chanted, punching the air in celebration and defiance. Some stood on top of a captured tank, while others crowded around an anti-aircraft gun. Women stood on top of buildings cheering on the men below.


"Libya is the land of the free and honorable," a banner read. Another depicted Gaddafi's head with the body of a dog.


Bullet holes pock-marked charred buildings in Zawiyah, while burnt-out vehicles lay abandoned.


The scene, only 50 km west of Tripoli, was another indication Gaddafi's grip on power was weakening.


Residents even in parts of Tripoli manned barricades proclaiming defiance after security forces melted away.


Serbian television quoted Gaddafi as blaming foreigners and al Qaeda for the unrest and condemning the UN Security Council for imposing sanctions and ordering a war crimes inquiry.


"Libya is safe, there are no conflicts, Tripoli is safe," he said. "The Security Council could not see Tripoli is safe."


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was "reaching out" to opposition groups.


"We are reaching out to many different Libyans in the east as the revolution moves westward there as well ... it is too soon to see how this is going to play out," she said before leaving for Geneva to consult with allies.


The Security Council unanimously imposed travel and asset sanctions on Gaddafi and close aides on Saturday. It adopted an arms embargo and urged that his crackdown on protesters be referred to the International Criminal Court.


The death toll from nearly two weeks of violence in Libya has been estimated by some diplomats at about 2,000.


The unrest has helped drive oil above $112 (£69.53) a barrel. Although Libya only produces 2 percent of the world's oil and Saudi Arabia has boosted production, traders fear turmoil intensifying across the Arab world.


Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam said there was a "big gap between reality and media reports."


"The whole south is calm. The west is calm. The middle is calm. Even part of the east."


'Time for Colonel Gaddafi to go'

As if to reinforce that point, authorities took a group of foreign journalists to Zawiyah, apparently to show they still held the town. But it was evident that rebels were in control.


Residents told of fierce fighting for control against pro-Gaddafi paramilitaries armed with heavy weapons.


"We are finished with Gaddafi. He will fall soon. He has to go now. We are losing patience," one man called Sabri said.


"Gaddafi is crazy. His people shot at us using rocket-propelled grenades," said one man, who gave his name as Mustafa. Another man, called Chawki, said: "We need justice. People are being killed. Gaddafi's people shot my nephew."


A doctor at a makeshift clinic in the town mosque said 24 people had been killed in fighting with government loyalists over the previous three days, and a small park next to the main square had been turned into a burial ground.


"We need more medicine, more food and more doctors," said Youssef Mustafa, a doctor. There are a lot of good doctors in Libya but they cannot get into Zawiyah."


Local people said they had captured 11 pro-Gaddafi fighters, unhurt, and showed reporters two being held in a cell in the town's main mosque. Some 50,000 people, many of the migrant workers, have fled west to Tunisia since February 21.


Locals in Tajoura, a poor neighborhood of Tripoli, had erected barricades of rocks and palm trees across rubbish-strewn streets, and graffiti covered many walls. Bullet holes in the walls of the houses bore testimony to the violence.


Residents said troops fired on demonstrators who tried to march from Tajoura to central Green Square overnight, killing at least five. The number could not be independently confirmed.


"Gaddafi is the enemy of God!" a crowd chanted on Saturday at the funeral of a man they said was shot by Gaddafi loyalists.


Libyan state television again showed a crowd chanting their loyalty to Gaddafi in Green Square on Saturday. But journalists there estimated their number at scarcely 200.


There were queues outside banks in Tripoli for the 500 Libyan dinars ($400) the government had promised it would start distributing on Sunday to each family.


Many did not get the cash. "They just took a photocopy of our ID and registered people on a list," said one man.


From Misrata, a city 200 km (120 miles) east of Tripoli, residents said by phone a thrust by forces loyal to Gaddafi, operating from the airport, had been rebuffed with bloodshed.


But Libyan exile groups said later aircraft were firing on the city's radio station.


In the second city of Benghazi, which broke free from Gaddafi's rule a week ago, opponents of the 68-year-old leader said they had formed a National Libyan Council to be the face of the revolution, but it was unclear who they represented. They said they did not want foreign intervention and had not made contact with foreign governments.


Western leaders, emboldened by evacuations that have cut the numbers of their citizens stranded in the vast desert state, spoke out more clearly against Gaddafi's 41-year rule.


"The EU had already started to work on restrictive measures such as assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo," said a statement from EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton.


Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said a friendship and cooperation treaty with Libya was "de facto suspended."


"We have reached, I believe, a point of no return," Frattini said, adding it was "inevitable" for Gaddafi to leave power.


Britain revoked his diplomatic immunity. "It is time for Colonel Gaddafi to go," Foreign Secretary William Hague said.


Talk of possible military action by foreign governments remained vague. It was unclear how long Gaddafi, with some thousands of loyalists -- including his tribesmen and military units commanded by his sons -- might hold out against rebel forces comprised of youthful gunmen and mutinous soldiers.



פרסום ראשון: 02.27.11, 20:26
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