Tripoli (ANN) Dictator hemmed in by popular protests and unable to extend his rule beyond Tripoli as local committees take charge Opposition activists are increasing the pressure on Muammar Gaddafi’s ailing regime, shutting down oil exports and mobilising rebel groups in the west of the
country as the revolution rapidly spreads.
Gaddafi’s hold on power appears confined to parts of Tripoli and perhaps several regions in the centre of the country. Towns to the west of the capital have fallen and all of eastern Libya is firmly in opposition hands.
In Benghazi, the country’s second city, basic order is returning to the streets after days of fierce fighting that resulted in the military defecting en masse. Virtually all government buildings were looted and wrecked.
There are long lines outside closed banks as people try to resume normal life. Cars have returned to city streets but almost all shops remain closed and the internet is blocked.
Benghazi is now being run by a makeshift organising committee of judges, lawyers and other professionals who have sent out young people to direct traffic and restore basic order.
One high court lawyer, Amal Bagaigis, said: “We started just as lawyers looking for our rights and now we are revolutionaries, and we don’t know how to manage. We want to have our own face. For 42 years we lived with this kind of barbarianism. We now want to live by ourselves.”
The town of Mastra, about halfway between Benghazi and Tripoli, is reported to have fallen after days of violence. A resident, Abdul Basit Imzivig, told the Guardian that regime forces had fled overnight and the city was in opposition hands.
All southern oilfields are in rebel control. Moustafa Raba’a, a mechanical engineer with the Sirte oil company, said pressure had been put on field and refinery managers to stop work and protect all foreign nationals working with them.
“The order was put out to send a message to Gaddafi to stop the slaying of our people in Benghazi. We made a decision to deny him the privilege of exporting oil and gas to Europe.”
He said the blockade had prevented 80,000 barrels a day being exported from the Dregga field alone.
Opposition to Gaddafi appears to have reached a critical mass, with his influence confined to parts of the capital and steadily shrinking. Tripoli remains in lockdown and there are reports of snipers stalking the streets.
Irish-trained surgeon Heitham Gheriani, who was one of the revolution’s organisers in Benghazi, said: “Now the people realise the power they have. They started this protest peacefully and then the youths joined them. And when Gaddafi started killing them they rose up. But we honestly didn’t think it would happen so quickly.”
A Turkish ferry has docked in Benghazi to evacuate a small number of Turkish nationals, and a British warship remains off the coast waiting for permission to approach Libyan shores. A second shop, the HMS York, has been stationed in Malta to help with the rescue effort.
Tens of thousands of fleeing Egyptians are continuing to pour to their home border along with a convoy of foreign workers.
Elsewhere in Libya forces loyal to Gaddafi are reported to have launched a counter-attack on anti-government militias controlling Misrata, 125 miles (200km) east of Tripoli. Several people were killed in fighting near the city’s airport.
Lawyers and judges have said they control the city in an internet statement. With help from “honest” military officers they had removed agents of the “oppressive regime” in Misrata, the statement said.
Another western town, Zuara, is reported to have fallen to opposition forces as the tide of rebellion advanced closer to Tripoli.
Violence reached the town of Az-Zawiyah, 30 miles west of Tripoli. Al-Arabiya television said Gaddafi would address residents of the town.
BENGHAZI, Libya — Army units and militiamen loyal to Muammar al-Qaddafi struck back against protesters who have risen up in cities close to the capital Thursday, attacking a mosque where many had taken refuge and blasting its minaret and opening fire on others protecting a local airport.
The assaults aimed to push back a rebellion that has moved closer to Qaddafi’s bastion in the capital, Tripoli. The revolt has already broken away nearly the eastern half of Libya and unraveled parts of Qaddafi’s regime.
In the latest blow to the Libyan leader, a cousin who is one of his closest aides, Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, announced that he has defected to Egypt in protest against the regime’s bloody crackdown against the uprising, denouncing what he called “grave violations to human rights and human and international laws.”
In the city of Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli, an army unit attacked a mosque where protesters had been camping inside and in a lot outside for several days, calling for Qaddafi’s ouster, a witness said. The soldiers opened fire with automatic weapons and hit the mosque’s minaret with anti-aircraft missiles, he said. Some of the young men among the protesters had hunting rifles.
He said there were casualties, but couldn’t provide exact figures. He said a day earlier an envoy from Qaddafi had come to the city and warned protesters, “Either leave or you will see a massacre.” Zawiya is a key city near an oil port and refineries.
“What is happening is horrible, those who attacked us are not the mercenaries; they are sons of our country,” he said, sobbing. After the assault, thousands massed in the city’s main Martyrs Square, shouting “leave, leave,” in reference to Qaddafi, he said.
“People came to send a clear message: we are not afraid of death or your bullets,” he said. “This regime will regret it. History will not forgive them.”
The other attack came at a small airport outside Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, where rebels claimed control on Wednesday. Militiamen on Thursday attacked a line of residents who were protecting the facility, opening fire with rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, said a resident who saw the assault
“They left piles of human remains and swamp of blood,” he said. “The hospitals are packed with those killed and injured.” But he could not provide exact figures.
After the attack ended before noon, another Misrata resident said the local radio, now in opposition hands, urged people to march on the airport in support of the protesters. Both residents said the rebellion continues to control the city, located about 120 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tripoli. They and other witnesses around Libya spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Qaddafi’s crackdown has so far helped him maintain control of Tripoli, a city that holds about a third of Libya’s 6 million population. But the uprising by protesters, backed by army units that joined their ranks, has divided the country and threatened to push it toward civil war.
The leader’s cousin, Gadhaf al-Dam, is one of the most high level defections to hit the regime so far, after many ambassadors around the world, the justice minister and the interior minister all sided with the protesters. Gadhaf al-Dam belonged to Qaddafi’s inner circle, officially his liaison with Egypt, but he also served as Qaddafi’s envoy to other world leaders and frequently appeared by his side.
In a statement issued in Cairo on Thursday, Gadhaf al-Dam said he had left Libya for Egypt “in protest and to show disagreement” with the crackdown.
International momentum has been building for action to punish Qaddafi’s regime for the bloodshed.
President Barack Obama said the suffering in Libya “is outrageous and it is unacceptable,” and he directed his administration to prepare a full range of options, including possible sanctions that could freeze the assets and ban travel to the U.S. by Libyan officials.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised the possibility of the European Union cutting off economic ties.
Another proposal gaining some traction was for the United Nations to declare a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent it using warplanes to hit protesters. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that if reports of such strikes are confirmed, “there’s an immediate need for that level of protection.”
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.
Muammar Qaddafi’s son claimed Thursday that the reported death tolls have been exaggerated, although he didn’t provide his own figure. In a press conference aired on state TV, he said the number killed by police and the army had been limited and “talking about hundreds and thousands (killed) is a joke.”
He also said a committee had been formed to investigate alleged foreign involvement in the protests.
Earlier Thursday, Libyan TV showed Egyptian passports, CDs and cell phones purportedly belonging to detainees who had allegedly confessed to plotting “terrorist” operations against the Libyan people. Other footage showed a dozen men lying on the ground, with their faces down, blindfolded and handcuffed. Rifles and guns were laid out next to them.