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Most Libya Is Free of the Dictator, Who Still Attacks People in Tripoli, Death Toll 1,000

February 23, 2011

Editor's Note:
By Hassan El-Najjar
Wednesday, February 23, 2011, 8:00 am, ET

Most Libya, East and West, is now free from the dictator, whose influence is now limited to parts of capital, Tripoli. His loyal Libyan and African mercenary groups have been reported firing at people in the streets of the capital. In his last speech yesterday, the dictator announced that he would fight to the last drop in his blood.

For the third time, Libyan pilots refused to attack eastern Libyan cities. An air force jet crashed on the Green Mountain after the pilots ejected and asked for help. One of them said they had orders to attack Libyan cities but he preferred to crash the plane rather than attacking his people.

Earlier, two pilots landed in Malta, two others landed in Bani Ghazi, and navy ships went to Malta instead of attacking Bani Ghazi.

Eastern provinces are completely free as well as cities in the West of Tripoli and around it. However, it seems that the dictator is still commanding some loyal and mercenary troops in Tripoli. He seems to continue the fight despite the resignation of many of his closest aids, government officials, and Libyans abroad.

Italy says 1,000 killed in Libya unrest

Wed Feb 23, 2011 6:49am EST

TRIPOLI, Feb 23 -Reuters -

 Muammar Gaddafi's increasingly desperate attempts to crush a revolt against his four-decade rule have killed as many as 1,000 people and split Libya, Italy's Foreign Minister said on Wednesday.

As countries with strong business ties to Africa's third largest oil producer scrambled to evacuate their citizens, and fear of pro-Gaddafi gunmen emptied the streets of the capital Tripoli, France became the first state to call for sanctions.

"I would like the suspension of economic, commercial and financial relations with Libya until further notice," President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

But in the latest sign of international division over how to deal with Gaddafi, the prime minister of Qatar said he did not want to isolate Libya, where several senior officials have declared their backing for protests that began about a week ago.

A senior aide to Gaddafi's influential son Saif was the latest to change sides.

"I resigned from the Gaddafi Foundation on Sunday to express dismay against violence," Youssef Sawani, executive director of the foundation, said in a text message sent to Reuters.

Gaddafi called for mass demonstrations by his supporters on Wednesday to try to cling to power. In the morning, only around 150 people gathered in Tripoli's central Green Square, carrying the Libyan flag and holding up Gaddafi's portrait.

Most streets were almost deserted at a time when they are normally packed with rush-hour traffic. A handful of cafes appeared to be the only businesses open despite government appeals for a return to work sent to subscribers of Libya's two state-controlled mobile phone companies.

"Lots of people are afraid to leave their homes in Tripoli and pro-Gaddafi gunmen are roaming around threatening any people who gather in groups," Marwan Mohammed, a Tunisian, said as he crossed Libya's western border into Tunisia.

A British oil worker said he was stranded with 300 other people at a camp in the east of Libya, where he said local people had looted oil installations.

"We are living every day in fear of our lives as the local people are armed," James Coyle told the BBC. "They've looted ... the German camp next door, they've taken all their vehicles, all our vehicles ... everything. So we are here desperate for the British government to come and get us."

The British foreign office had no immediate comment.


Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he understood the eastern region of Cyrenaica, where much of Libya's oil is located, was no longer under Gaddafi's control after violent attempts to crush protest there and elsewhere in the country.

Frattini said he could not be sure how many had been killed, adding: "We believe that estimates of about 1,000 are credible."

Human Rights Watch had estimated 233 had been killed, with 62 killed in Tripoli in the past two days. Opposition groups had put the figure far much higher.

On Tuesday, Gaddafi declared he was ready to die "a martyr" in Libya. "I shall remain here defiant," he said on state television, refusing to bow to calls to step down from some of his own ministers, soldiers and protesters.

Popular protests in Libya's neighbors Egypt and Tunisia have toppled entrenched leaders, but Gaddafi, who has ruled the mainly desert country with a mixture of populism and tight control since taking power in a military coup in 1969, said he would not be forced out.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council condemned the use of violence and called for those responsible for attacks on civilians to be held to account.

The turmoil in Libya, which stretches from the Mediterranean into the Sahara and pumps nearly 2 percent of world oil output, sent Brent crude futures above $108 a barrel to a 2 1/2 year high on Tuesday. They were at $107.08 by 1000 GMT on Wednesday.

The White House said global powers must speak with one voice in response to the "appalling violence" in Libya and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States would take "appropriate steps" in time.

But Washington has little leverage over Libya, which was a U.S. adversary for most of Gaddafi's rule until it agreed in 2003 to abandon a weapons-of-mass-destruction program and moved to settle claims from the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Gaddafi called protesters "rats and mercenaries" who deserved the death penalty in his 75-minute speech. He said he would call on people to "cleanse Libya house by house" unless protesters surrendered.

He urged Libyans to take to the streets to show their loyalty. "All of you who love Muammar Gaddafi, go out on the streets, secure the streets, don't be afraid of them ... Chase them, arrest them, hand them over," he said.

Libya's official news agency quoted him as telling Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that "Libya is fine, its people are ... holding on to its security."

But British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there were "many indications of the structure of the state collapsing in Libya." Britain and other nations have said they are trying to evacuate nationals from Libya by plane an ship.

In a sign of his camp's growing isolation, Libyan diplomats at the United Nations and several countries broke ranks with Gaddafi's leadership.

Peru suspended diplomatic relations with Libya.

Libya's Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younes al Abidi defected, Al Jazeera said. It aired video showing Abidi at his desk reading a statement urging the army to support the people and their "legitimate demands."


A government spokesman accused international media of exaggerating the gravity of the situation in the country.

But swathes of Libya are no longer under government control.

Libyan protesters defiant after Gadhafi speech

By MAGGIE MICHAEL Associated Press

Wed., February 23, 2011


Heavy gunfire broke out in Tripoli as forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi tightened their grip on the Libyan capital while anti-government protesters claimed control of many cities elsewhere and top government officials and diplomats turn against the longtime leader.

While residents of cities in the eastern half of the country celebrated, raising the flags of the old monarchy, the mood in Tripoli was bleak. Residents were afraid to leave their houses, saying pro-Gadhafi forces were opening fire randomly in the streets.

International outrage mounted a day after Gadhafi vowed to defend his rule and called on supporters to crack down on anti-government protesters. Gadhafi's retaliation has already been the harshest in the Arab world to the wave of anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East.

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said estimates of some 1,000 people killed in the violence in Libya were "credible," although he stressed information about casualties was incomplete. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at nearly 300, according to a partial count.

The fighting in Tripoli came as the opposition reportedly seized control of Misurata, with witnesses saying people were honking their horns and raising pre-Gadhafi flags from the monarchy to celebrate.

Misurata would be the first major city in the west to fall to anti-government forces, which have mainly been concentrated in the east. Faraj al-Misrati, a local doctor, said six residents had been killed and 200 injured since Jan. 18, when protesters attacked offices and buildings affiliated with Gadhafi's regime.

He said residents had formed committees to protect the city, clean the streets and treat the injured.

"The solidarity among the people here is amazing, even the disabled are helping out," he said in a telephone interview.

New videos posted by Libya's opposition on Facebook also showed scores of anti-government protesters raising the flag from the pre-Gadhafi monarchy on a building in Zawiya, on the outskirts of Tripoli. Another showed protesters lining up cement blocks and setting tires ablaze to fortify positions on a square inside the capital.

The footage couldn't be independently confirmed.

Gadhafi defiantly vowed to fight to his "last drop of blood" and roared at supporters to strike back against Libyan protesters to defend his embattled regime Tuesday in a televised speech that served as an all-out call for his backers to impose control over the capital and take back other cities.

After a week of upheaval, protesters backed by defecting army units have claimed control over almost the entire eastern half of Libya's 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) Mediterranean coast, including several oil-producing areas.

"You men and women who love Gadhafi ... get out of your homes and fill the streets," Gadhafi said. "Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs."

Celebratory gunfire by Gadhafi supporters rang out in the capital of Tripoli after the leader's speech, while in protester-held Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, people threw shoes at a screen showing his address, venting their contempt.

A woman who lives near downtown Tripoli said heavy gunfire erupted Wednesday morning as armed Gadhafi backers and mercenaries hired from other countries opened fire on the streets. She said her nephew has been missing since Tuesday.

"He went to join the protests and he didn't come back. The whole family is panicking," she said. "We are under siege."

She said the streets were empty and even injured people couldn't go to the hospital for fear of being shot.

International alarm has risen over the crisis, which sent oil prices soaring to the highest level in more than two years on Tuesday and sparked a scramble by European and other countries to get their citizens out of the North African nation. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting that ended with a statement condemning the crackdown, expressing "grave concern" and calling for an "immediate end to the violence" and steps to address the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy also pressed Wednesday for European Union sanctions against Libya's regime because of its violent crackdown on protesters, and raised the possibility of cutting all economic and business ties between the EU and the North African nation.

"The continuing brutal and bloody repression against the Libyan civilian population is revolting," Sarkozy said in a statement. "The international community cannot remain a spectator to these massive violations of human rights."

Italian news reports have said witnesses and hospital sources in Libya are estimating there are 1,000 dead in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, alone.

"We have no complete information about the number of people who have died," Frattini said in a speech to a Catholic organization in Rome ahead of a briefing in Parliament on Libya. "We believe that the estimates of about 1,000 are credible."

Libya is the biggest supplier of oil to Italy, which has extensive energy, construction and other business interests in the north African country and decades of strong ties.

Frattini said the Italian government is asking that the "horrible bloodshed" cease immediately despite Gadhafi's vow to fight on and cling to power.


Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb in Cairo, Frances D'Emilio in Rome and Angela Doland in Paris contributed to this report.

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Monarchy flag raised at Libyan Embassy in Sweden

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Diplomats desert Libya's Gaddafi

Tue, Feb 22 2011 Country and company Libya evacuation plans

1:08am EST Quotes from witnesses on Libyan unrest 4:19am EST

Calm in eastern Libyan towns despite revolt

 6:39am EST People in Libya's Benghazi hand back weapons: residents 6:32am EST

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