TRIPOLI: Warplanes bombed many locations in Tripoli on Monday, a resident told al Jazeera television after protesters overran several cities and stalwarts of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime began defecting.
The bombing comes in the wake of fierce clashes in Tripoli which have left up to 160 people dead, eyewitnesses were quoted as telling Arabiya television.
“What we are witnessing today is unimaginable. Warplanes and helicopters are indiscriminately bombing one area after another. There are many, many dead,” Adel Mohamed Saleh said.
Nine cities, including Benghazi and Sirte, have fallen to anti-regime demonstrators after army units defected, the International Federation for Human Rights said Monday. It put the death toll since the start of the uprising at 300 to 400.
“Many towns have fallen, particularly on the eastern coast. Soldiers have joined” the uprising against Qaddafi, IFHR head Souhayr Belhassen told AFP, naming opposition hotbed Benghazi and Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte specifically.
Earlier 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 who said Qaddafi may have left the country. The staff of Libya’s mission to the United Nations declared allegiance to the people of Libya, instead of to its government led by Muammar Qaddafi, a mission spokesman said on Monday. “The members of the Libyan mission are representing only the Libyan people and not anyone else,” the spokesman, Dia al-Hotmani, said by telephone.
Two air force fighter pilots defected and flew their jets to Malta where they told authorities 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.
There were rumours that Qaddafi was on his way to Venezuela but the South American country quickly ruled out the possibility, fuelled in part by British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
The only official response to the killings has come from Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam who announced a commission to probe the deadly unrest that has swept the country over the past seven days, state television reported. The commission, to be chaired by a Libyan judge, and will include “members of Libyan and foreign rights organisations,” the report said.
Security forces “stormed the dens of terrorists and saboteurs who are motivated by hatred” and “several people were killed” in the operation, a state television report said.
It also urged citizens to cooperate with the authorities to restore security in the country which has been rocked since Thursday by protests against the regime. Citizens “must be wary of the gangs who are destroying Libya and must cooperate with the security forces and the police everywhere in Libya,” the report said.
The violence in Libya “absolutely must stop,” French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told AFP on Monday during a visit to Brazil. Similar calls were made by UN chief Ban Ki-moon and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Ban told Qaddafi that violence in the country “must stop immediately” and called for a broad-based dialogue, a UN spokesman said. Ban had “extensive” telephone talks with the beleaguered Libyan leader, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
“The secretary general reiterated his call for respect for basic freedoms and human rights, including peaceful assembly and information,” Nesirky said.
With hundreds of protesters reportedly killed, the US State Department urged Americans not to visit while there was a continued threat of violence and suggested those already there hunker down.
“US citizens in Libya should minimise overall travel in-country, exercise extreme caution when travelling, and limit all travel after dark. US citizens not departing Libya should make preparations to shelter in place,” it said.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2011.
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