Libyan protesters occupy several cities, launch counter-attacks on police, military

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 21, 2011 13:47 EDT
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Dictator rumored to have fled country for Venezuela, but details remain scarce

CAIRO (AFP) – Protesters Monday overran several Libyan cities and regime stalwarts began defecting as the pillars of Moamer Kadhafi’s hardline rule were targeted in Tripoli amid reports he had fled the country.

Cities including Benghazi in the east had fallen to demonstrators opposing Kadhafi’s 41-year-old regime after military units deserted, said the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR).

With gunfire crackling in the streets of Tripoli, protesters also attacked police stations and the offices of the state broadcaster, Kadhafi’s mouthpiece, as well as setting government buildings ablaze.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon told Kadhafi in a phone call that the violence “must stop immediately” and called for a broad-based dialogue, a UN spokesman said.

In Brussels, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Kadhafi may be heading to Venezuela, citing “information that suggests he is on his way,” but Caracas quickly denied this.

US President Barack Obama was “considering all appropriate actions” on Libya, as Washington ordered out all non-essential staff and warned Americans to avoid travel to the north African country.

Two Libyan warplanes with four personnel on board who said they had escaped Benghazi air base after it was overrun by protesters landed in Malta, military sources told AFP.

Italy put all military air bases on maximum alert after the Libyan fighters landed, ANSA news agency reported.

Two civilian helicopters also arrived in Malta with seven people who said they were French and worked on oil rigs near Benghazi, the Maltese sources said.

Libyan state television said security forces were battling “dens of terrorists” in a sweep that has killed a number of people, without specifying where this was or who was being targeted.

State television reported that Kadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, had set up a commission to probe “the sad events currently taking place in Libya,” and that it would include “members of Libyan and foreign rights organisations.”

He had already appeared on television overnight to warn that the country faced civil war.

“Libya is at a crossroads. If we do not agree today on reforms… rivers of blood will run through Libya,” he said in a fiery but rambling speech that betrayed a note of desperation within his father’s regime.

“We will take up arms… we will fight to the last bullet. We will destroy seditious elements. If everybody is armed, it is civil war, we will kill each other… Libya is not Egypt, it is not Tunisia.”

IFHR head Souhayr Belhassen said protesters had control of Benghazi, Sirte, Tobruk in the east, as well as Misrata, Khoms, Tarhounah, Zenten, Al-Zawiya and Zouara, closer to the capital.

Witnesses in Sirte denied that Kadhafi’s coastal hometown was under the control of protesters, but others in Al-Zawiya told AFP that police had fled that city.

The IFHR said that besides soldiers and diplomats, other senior regime officials had also defected to the side of protesters, demanding that Kadhafi go after more than 41 years in power.

It said the protests had resulted in up to 400 deaths. Human Rights Watch earlier cited a death toll of 233.

Protesters in the capital attacked the state broadcaster’s offices and overnight set alight branches of the People’s Committees that are the mainstay of Kadhafi’s regime, witnesses told AFP.

Broadcasts on both channels interrupted on Sunday evening resumed on Monday.

“Protesters burned and ransacked the ministry of interior building,” in central Tripoli, one witness told AFP by email.

Earlier, heavy gunfire erupted in central Tripoli and other city areas for the first time since the uprising began in eastern Libya, witnesses and an AFP journalist reported.

“When we heard the unrest was approaching, we stocked up on flour and tomatoes. It’s definitely the end of the regime. This has never happened in Libya before. We are praying that it ends quickly,” a resident of a suburb east of Tripoli told AFP in Cairo by telephone.

Seif al-Islam Kadhafi, 38, who holds no formal government post but wields vast influence as heir apparent, suggested that Benghazi was out of government control.

“At this moment there are tanks being driven by civilians in Benghazi,” he said, insisting that the uprising was aimed at installing Islamist rule and that it would be ruthlessly crushed.

Libya’s justice minister, Mustapha Abdeljalil, resigned in objection to “the excessive use of force” against demonstrators, the Quryna newspaper website reported.

In Cairo, Libya’s Arab League envoy said he had resigned to “join the revolution.”

Tripoli’s ambassador to Delhi also quit, as did a lower-level diplomat in Beijing, Al-Jazeera television reported.

Oil prices soared above $105 per barrel on the turmoil, and the Fitch agency downgraded Libya’s debt rating a notch from BBB+ to BBB, adding that a further drop was likely.

British energy giant BP said it was preparing to evacuate some staff from Libya, which holds Africa’s biggest oil reserves, and French oil giant Total said it was repatriating most of its expatriate employees and their families.

Portugal and Austria sent military planes to evacuate their nationals, as European governments and firms scrambled to evacuate their citizens from a Libya facing the looming spectre of civil war.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
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  • http://twitter.com/2l8toolate 2L8

    This is so sad… So many innocent people being killed
    Still it is hopeful news i think. The global political awakening???
    Let’s dream of freedom. Freedom for all

  • http://twitter.com/Just_A_Joe Joe Public

    There is a $10 million bounty on Gaddafi’s head.

  • Anonymous

    I was stationed in Libya in 1966 1967. The Libyan people under the King were very poor as opposed to the ruling class and oil workers. There was a merchant class consisting mainly of Italians. Sound familiar?

  • http://thesprint.blogspot.com Sprint

    The actions taken by Mr. Quadhafi have sealed his fate. Once a leader has taken the fateful step of calling in to military to take widespread, violent action against its own citizens, his legitimacy is completely gone. It is only a matter of time before his regime implodes and he faces the justice of his people. No country should offer him asylum after the actions taken today involving the air force. I just hope that a civilian government can be formed that is representative of the multiple tribal factions that inhabit Libya. May the Libyan people liberate themselves from “Big Brother” and taste freedom without having the taste of a gun-barrel in their mouth.

  • Anonymous

    Venezuela? Not cool, Chavez, not cool. You better extradite that bitch.