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Published On: Mon, Feb 21st, 2011

Report: Libya fighter jets attack protesters in Tripoli

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TRIPOLI (ANN) Military aircraft fired live ammunition at crowds of anti-government protesters in Tripoli, Al-Jazeera television reported Monday.
A Libyan man, Soula al-Balaazi, who said he was an opposition activist, told the network by telephone that Libyan air force

warplanes had bombed “some locations in Tripoli.”
He said he was talking from a suburb of Tripoli. No independent verification of the report was immediately available.
The report came as protesters celebrated in the streets of the country’s second largest city Benghazi, claiming they were now in control after days of bloody fighting and after anti-government unrest spread to Tripoli, the capital, for the first time Sunday.
Human Rights Watch said Monday that at least 233 people had been killed since the protests began last week, but opposition groups put the figure much higher. Most were in Benghazi, a region where Gadhafi’s grip has always been weaker than elsewhere in the oil-producing desert nation.

Gadhafi’s son vowed Sunday that his father and security forces would fight “until the last bullet.”
An analyst for London-based consultancy Control Risks said the use of military aircraft on his own people indicated the end was approaching for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

He also said witnesses reported six private planes taking off from a small airport on the outskirts of Tripoli on Sunday night.
“But no one can confirm who was on those planes,” he said. Sawalem said it was “very likely” they were people connected with the regime.
Fear of foreign mercenaries
He said he hoped it was Gadhafi, but added it could family members or even well-connected businesspeople.
“We are all hoping. If we take control of the city (Tripoli), it means he’s out. We are worried about the foreign mercenaries. We don’t know how many of them are in the country,” Sawalem said.
The suggestion that Gadhafi may have fled was fueled when British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had “some information” the dictator was heading for Venezuela.
However a senior government source in Caracas denied that and a U.K. official said Hague had been referring only to unconfirmed media reports.
The capital was largely shut down, with schools, government offices and most stores closed, as armed members of pro-government organizations called “Revolutionary Committees” circulated in the streets hunting for protesters in Tripoli’s old city, said one protester, named Fathi.
During the day Monday, a fire was raging at the People’s Hall, the main hall for government gatherings where the country’s equivalent of a parliament holds its sessions several times a year, the pro-government news web site Qureyna said.
Protesters planned new marches in the central Green Square and at the leader’s residence for Monday evening.
“These really seem to be last, desperate acts. If you’re bombing your own capital, it’s really hard to see how you can survive, ” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, Control Risks’ Middle East analyst.
“But I think Gaddafi is going to put up a fight … in Libya more than any other country in the region, there is the prospect of serious violence and outright conflict,” he said.
U.K.-based opposition activist Ahmed Sawalem, who is keeping in touch with protesters in Libya, told msnbc.com that there were reports of planes bombing a weapons store south of Benghazi in Ajdabiya “so the protesters cannot get hold of them, to use them to fight.” He said a number of people in the area were thought to have been killed in the attack.
He also said witnesses reported six private planes taking off from a small airport on the outskirts of Tripoli on Sunday night.
“But no one can confirm who was on those planes,” he said. Sawalem said it was “very likely” they were people connected with the regime.
Fear of foreign mercenaries
He said he hoped it was Gadhafi, but added it could family members or even well-connected businesspeople.
“We are all hoping. If we take control of the city (Tripoli), it means he’s out. We are worried about the foreign mercenaries. We don’t know how many of them are in the country,” Sawalem said.
The suggestion that Gadhafi may have fled was fueled when British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had “some information” the dictator was heading for Venezuela.
However a senior government source in Caracas denied that and a U.K. official said Hague had been referring only to unconfirmed media reports.
The capital was largely shut down, with schools, government offices and most stores closed, as armed members of pro-government organizations called “Revolutionary Committees” circulated in the streets hunting for protesters in Tripoli’s old city, said one protester, named Fathi.
During the day Monday, a fire was raging at the People’s Hall, the main hall for government gatherings where the country’s equivalent of a parliament holds its sessions several times a year, the pro-government news web site Qureyna said.
Protesters planned new marches in the central Green Square and at the leader’s residence for Monday evening.

hat was likely to bring a new round of violence after a similar march the night before prompted clashes that lasted till dawn. Witnesses reported snipers opening fire on protesters and Gadhafi supporters racing through crowds in trucks and cars, firing automatic weapons and running people over.
Queryna also reported the first major sign of discontent within Gadhafi’s government, saying justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil had resigned from his post to protest the “excessive use of force against unarmed protesters.”
Fighter pilots claim asylum
Reuters reported that two Libyan fighter jets flown by Libyan air force colonels were granted permission to land in Malta after asking for political asylum.
They had left from a base near Tripoli and had flown low over Libyan airspace to avoid detection. They arrived shortly after two civilian helicopters carrying seven people claiming to be French landed after a flight from Libya.
Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, went on state TV late Sunday night, warning civil war will break out if protests continue, a theme continued Monday on Libyan state TV, where a pro-regime commentator spoke of chaos and “rivers of blood” turning Libya into “another Somalia” if security is not restored.
‘Very, very bad’
Some in Tripoli expressed anger at the speech.
“The speech was very, very bad,” a Libyan woman who gave her name as Salma, said. “The speech was very disappointing because he threatened the Libyan people with killing, hunger and burning. He did not offer mercy for the souls of the martyrs who were killed.”
Another man said: “We were waiting for something good for us, the young people, to calm the anger but he did nothing.”
Gadhafi’s regime has unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region, which toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke to Gadhafi Monday by telephone, expressing deep concern over the escalating violence and saying it must stop immediately, a statement obtained by NBC News said.
The U.S. State Department ordered all embassy family members and non-emergency personnel in Libya to leave the nation, NBC News reported. It also urged Americans to delay travel to Libya or if already there to use extreme caution

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Sources ; NBC

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