Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi fought an increasingly bloody battle to hang on to power Monday as government officials at home and abroad resigned, air force pilots defected and anti-government protests struck the capital after days of violence in the east.
A group of army officers issued a statement Monday urging fellow soldiers to “join the people” and help remove the Libyan leader.
Protesters attacked police stations in Tripoli and the offices of the state broadcaster and set government buildings ablaze. One political activist said warplanes had bombed the city.
Al-Jazeera television quoted medical sources as saying 61 people had been killed in the latest protests in Tripoli and 10 Egyptians were shot to death in the city of Tobruk, near the eastern border, an Egyptian doctor heading to Libya told AFP, citing a witness.
In the strongest U.S. reaction to the unrest yet, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was “time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed” in Libya.
In signs of disagreement inside Libya’s ruling elite, the justice minister resigned in protest at the “excessive use of violence” against protesters.
The deputy chief of Libya’s mission to the U.N. and other staff called on the Libyan Army to help overthrow “the tyrant Moammar Gadhafi” and urged other Libyan embassies to follow suit.
Deputy permanent representative Ibrahim Dabbashi accused Gadhafi of committing genocide against his own people in the current crisis. In an interview with BBC World, Dabbashi said: “I think it is the end of Colonel Gadhafi, it is a matter of days, whether he steps down or the Libyan people will get rid of him anyway.”
Other Libyan officials said they did not know the whereabouts of permanent representative Abdel-Rahman Shalgham, but believed he was not in New York.
In Washington, Libya’s ambassador to the United States Ali Ojli denounced “the repression of the protesters” in an interview with Al-Jazeera.
In India, Libya’s ambassador said he was resigning in protest at the violent crackdown while three diplomats in Sweden and a diplomat in China also quit their posts.
Two Libyan fighter jets landed in Malta, their pilots defecting after they had been ordered to bomb protesters, Maltese government officials said.
They said the two pilots, both colonels, took off from a base near Tripoli. One of them has requested political asylum. The pilots are being questioned by the Maltese police. Italy put all military air bases on maximum alert after the fighters landed, ANSA news agency reported.
“What we are witnessing today is unimaginable. Warplanes and helicopters are indiscriminately bombing one area after another. There are many, many dead,” Adel Mohammad Saleh said in a live broadcast on Al-Jazeera television. “Anyone who moves, even if they are in their car they will hit you.”
Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam said that air raids Monday targeted ammunition depots and not populated areas in Tripoli and Benghanzi.
There were reports that soldiers who refused to fire on civilians were executed by officers in Benghazi. “We have buried 11 bodies of soldiers who refused to fire on civilians and were executed by Gadhafi officers. The bodies were cut, heads in one side and legs in the other,” said retired judge Elsanous Ali Eldorsi in Benghazi.
Another witness in Tripoli said helicopters had landed what he called African mercenaries who opened fire on anyone in the street, causing numerous deaths.
But other Tripoli residents, including a Reuters reporter, said they did not hear of any bombing from aircraft. “I did not hear any firing from planes. I did not hear planes. During the day there were some helicopters flying around, but I do not hear any guns or shots or anything,” the Reuters reporter said.
Fire raged at the People’s Hall, the main building for government gatherings where the country’s equivalent of a parliament holds sessions several times a year, the pro-government news website Qureyna said.
Al-Jazeera said security forces were looting banks and other state institutions in Tripoli, and protesters had broken into police stations and ransacked them.
At sunset, pro-Gadhafi militia drove around Tripoli with loudspeakers and told people not to leave their homes, witnesses said. Armed members of pro-government organizations called “Revolutionary Committees” hunted for protesters in Tripoli’s old city, said one protester named Fathi.
Warplanes swooped low over Tripoli in the evening and snipers took up position on roofs, apparently to stop people outside the capital from joining protests, according to Mohammad Abdul-Malek, a London-based opposition activist.
Another witness in Tripoli said armed men were roaming the streets of the capital’s upscale diplomatic neighborhood and firing heavily.
Including Benghazi, at least nine towns in the east were under the control of protesters loyal to tribal groups, the president of the International Federation for Human Rights in France said. Those are Sirte, Tobruk in the east, as well as Misrata, Khoms, Tarhounah, Zenten, Al-Zawiya and Zouara, closer to Tripoli.
Fueling rumors in the media, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said earlier Monday he had seen information to suggest Gadhafi had fled Libya and was on his way to Venezuela. But both Venezuela’s information minister and Libya’s deputy foreign minister separately denied the reports.
In Washington, Clinton condemned Gadhafi’s protest crackdown. “The world is watching the situation in Libya with alarm,” she said in a statement. “We join the international community in strongly condemning the violence in Libya.”
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon told Gadhafi in a phone call that the violence “must stop immediately” and called for a broad-based dialogue, a U.N. spokesman said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy also condemned the “unacceptable use of force” and called for an “immediate halt” to the violence. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Libya’s use of violence on civilians was “unacceptable.” British Prime Minister David Cameron, on a surprise visit to Egypt, also slammed the violence. The EU urged all sides to show restraint. – Agencies