Parts of Tripoli defy Qaddafi's rule

Security forces abandon Tripoli neighbourhoods as foreign governments plan measures against Gaddafi

Reuters February 26, 2011

TRIPOLI: Poor neighbourhoods of the Libyan capital Tripoli openly defied Muammar Qaddafi on Saturday as his grip on power after 41 years of rule looked increasingly tenuous in the face of nationwide revolt.

Security forces had abandoned the working-class Tajoura district after five days of anti-government demonstrations, residents told foreign correspondents who visited the area.

The residents, unwilling to be identified for fear of reprisals, said troops fired on demonstrators who tried to march from Tajoura to central Green Square overnight, killing at least five people. The number could not be independently confirmed.

A funeral on Saturday morning for one of the victims turned into another show of defiance. "We will demonstrate again and again, today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow until they change," a man who called himself Ali, aged 25, told Reuters.

The scene contradicted Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam, who told reporters invited into the country late on Friday that peace was returning to Libya. "If you hear fireworks don't mistake it for shooting," said the younger Qaddafi, 38, smiling.

On Saturday, maintaining that the rebels were few and isolated, he warned that the unrest threatened civil war.

"What the Libyan nation is going through has opened the door to all options, and now the signs of civil war and foreign interference have started," he told Al Arabiya television.

Libyan state television again showed a crowd chanting their loyalty to Qaddafi in Tripoli's Green Square on Saturday. But journalists estimated their number at only about 200.

Much of the east of the oil-producing country, including the second city Benghazi, is in opposition hands. Diplomats say some 2,000 or more people have been killed across the country.

From Misrata, a major city 200 km (120 miles) east of Tripoli, residents and exile groups said by telephone that a thrust by forces loyal to Qaddafi, operating from the local airport, had been rebuffed with bloodshed by the opposition.

"There were violent clashes last night and in the early hours of the morning near the airport," one resident, Mohammed, told Reuters. "An extreme state of alert prevails in the city."

He said several mercenaries from Chad had been detained by  rebels in Misrata. The report could not be verified but was similar to accounts elsewhere of Qaddafi deploying fighters brought in from African states where has long had allies.

Foreign powers protest

The Arab world has been hit by a wave of pro-democracy uprisings which have already swept away the longtime rulers of Tunisia and Egypt and forced others into concessions.

The pace of Libya's revolt has still come as a surprise to the West. It once treated Qaddafi as a pariah due to his support for militant groups around the world and incidents such as the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing. But Western powers later sought a rapprochement in quest of Libyan oil deals and other business.

Libya supplies 2 percent of the world's oil, the bulk of it from wells and supply terminals in the east.

Diplomats at the United Nations said a vote on a draft resolution calling for an arms embargo on Libya as well as travel bans and asset freezes on its leaders might come on Saturday after UN chief Ban Ki-moon said it could not wait.

US President Barack Obama signed an order prohibiting transactions related to Libya on Friday, and on Saturday Britain said Prime Minister David Cameron and other European leaders had agreed the United Nations and European Union should take urgent action, including sanctions.

Several Libyan diplomats and politicians have resigned their posts or voiced opposition to the violent crackdown, most lately prosecutor-general Abdul-Rahman al-Abbar. Delegations to the Arab League and United Nations in Geneva also switched sides.

The opposition says it controls nearly all oilfields east of Ras Lanuf. Industry sources told Reuters that crude oil shipments from Libya, the world's 12th-largest exporter, had all but stopped because of reduced production, a lack of staff at ports and security concerns.

Qaddafi's closest European ally, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said in Rome on Saturday that the Libyan leader no longer appeared to be in control of his country.

Graffiti and barricades

In the Tripoli neighbourhood of Tajoura early on Saturday, protesters had erected barricades of rocks and palm trees across rubbish-strewn streets, and graffiti covered many walls. Qaddafi's forces were nowhere to be seen but bullet holes in the walls of the tightly packed houses bore testimony to violence.

Several thousand people attended the funeral of one person killed the night before. It quickly turned into another demonstration. "Qaddafi is the enemy of God," the crowd chanted.

Protesters in Zawiyah, an oil refining town on the main coastal highway 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, have fought off government forces for several nights, according to witnesses who fled across the nearby Tunisian border at Ras Jdir.

"There are corpses everywhere. It's a war in the true sense of the word," said Akila Jmaa, who crossed into Tunisia on Friday after travelling from the town.

A government-escorted trip to Zawiyah from Tripoli for the foreign media planned for Saturday morning was called off.

In the east, ad hoc committees of lawyers, doctors, tribal elders and soldiers appeared to be filling the vacuum left by Qaddafi's government with some success.

At Tripoli's international airport, thousands of desperate foreign workers besieged the main gate trying to leave the country as police used batons and whips to keep them out.

The area outside the main building was a sprawling camp with makeshift tents and people huddled together in the cold, wrapped in blankets and surrounded by heaps of clothes, food and garbage.

A group of Egyptian migrant workers said they had been sleeping rough for six days: "We have only eaten biscuits. Sometimes there is even no water," one said.

Washington, having evacuated Americans from Libya after days of difficulties, said it was closing down its embassy.

In recent days, the flamboyant Qaddafi has made several appearances railing against his enemies as rats and cockroaches and blaming the unrest on a range of foes from the United States and Israel to al Qaeda militants and youths high on drugs.

He vowed to "crush any enemy" before a crowd of supporters in Green Square on Friday and threatened to open military arsenals to his supporters and tribesmen.

State television said the government was raising wages and food subsidies and ordering special allowances for all families, a late bid to enrol the support of Libya's 6 million citizens.


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ


Most Read