Sunday, February 27, 2011

Residents Gather at Benghazi

" recognition of the insurrection's growing power, Italy's foreign minister suspended a nonaggression treaty with Libya on the ground that the Libyan state 'no longer exists,'"

Tripoli headed for a siege as rebels widen control

Feb 28, 2011, 07.47am IST

TRIPOLI: Muammar Gaddafi clung to his gradually shrinking territory in Libya where the opposition movement appears to be heading towards a siege of Tripoli as the armed rebels were in control of Zawiyah, close to the capital, on Sunday and their red, green and black flag flew above the town.

In the eastern part of the country, rebels who have seized control of the region said they had formed the National Libyan Council to act as the face of the revolution but said it was not an interim government.

Zawiyah, a key city close to an oil port and refineries, is the nearest population center to Tripoli to fall into the opposition hands. Police stations and government offices inside the city have been torched and anti-Gaddafi graffiti was everywhere . Many buildings are pockmarked by bullets.

"The people want the fall of the regime," a crowd of several hundred people in Zawiyah chanted. "This is our revolution ," they also chanted, punching the air in celebration and defiance. Some stood on top of a captured tank, while others crowded around an anti-aircraft gun. Women stood on top of buildings cheering on the men.

The scene in Zawiyah, only 50 km west of Tripoli, was another indication that Gaddafi's grip on power appeared to be weakening by the day.

Hafiz Ghoga, the spokesman for the new National Libyan Council formed after a meeting of Gaddafi opponents in the eastern city of Benghazi, said he saw no room for talks with the Libyan leader who has lost control of large swathes of the country. "The main aim of the national council is to have a political face ... for the revolution," he said. "We can't call it an transition government," he said. He insisted that the council was seeking to keep the country united. "There is no such thing as a divided Libya," he said.

Anti-government protesters have also gained control over most of Libya's oil fields, Iran's Press TV said citing a report in Libya's al-Youm newspaper.

Protesters in eastern Libya claimed that most oil fields in the towns of Ras Lanuf and Brega are under their control and soldiers who have defected are helping them to secure the port, the report said.
The UN refugee agency said a "humanitarian emergency " was underway as thousands fled Libya in a mass exodus of foreigners from the strife-torn country by air, land and sea. A ferry loaded with some 1,800 Asian workers docked in the Mediterranean island of Malta.

No money taken out: Gaddafi son

Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi's son denied on Sunday that his family had secreted billions of dollars out of the country, as he scornfully dismissed a UN vote calling for freezing their assets. "First of all, we don't have money outside," Saif al-Islam Gaddafi told ABC television's "This Week" program. "We are a very modest family and everybody knows that. And we are laughing when they say you have money in Europe or Switzerland or something. Come on, it's a joke."

Moises Saman for The New York Times

Opponents of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi chanted slogans in the center of Zawiya, Libya, on Sunday.

Published: February 27, 2011

ZAWIYAH, Libya — The Libyan rebels challenging Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi demonstrated their increasing military coordination and firepower on Sunday, as defecting officers in the east took steps to establish a unified command while their followers in this rebel-held city, just outside the leader’s stronghold in the capital, displayed tanks, Kalashnikovs and anti-aircraft guns.

Opponents of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Benghazi on Sunday.

In a further sign of their strength, the rebels also talked about tapping revenue from the vast Libyan oil resources now under their control — estimated by some oil company officials to be about 80 percent of the country’s total. And in recognition of the insurrection’s growing power, Italy’s foreign minister suspended a nonaggression treaty with Libya on the ground that the Libyan state “no longer exists.” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States was reaching out to the rebels to “offer any kind of assistance.”

The most striking display of strength was seen here, 30 miles from Colonel Qaddafi’s Tripoli redoubt. Zawiyah is one of several cities near the capital controlled by rebels, who have repulsed repeated attempts by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces to retake them. And the arsenal they displayed helped to explain how the rebels held Zawiyah.

“Army, army, army!” excited residents shouted, pointing to a defected soldier standing watch at Zawiyah’s entrance as he raised his machine gun in the air and held up two fingers for victory.

A few yards away a captured anti-aircraft gun fired several deafening salutes into the air, and gleeful residents invited newcomers to clamber aboard one of several army tanks now in rebel hands. Residents said that when Colonel Qaddafi’s forces mounted a deadly assault to retake the city last Thursday — shell holes were visible in the central mosque and ammunition littered the central square — local army units switched sides to join the rebels, as about 2,000 police officers had done the week before.

And on Sunday, scores of residents armed with machine guns and rifles joined in a chant that has become the slogan of pro-democracy uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and across the Arab world: “The people want to bring down the regime!”

The opposition’s display came as a global effort to isolate Colonel Qaddafi and possibly force his resignation gained momentum over the weekend, with the United Nations Security Council moving to impose punitive financial sanctions and NATO allies discussing steps that included a possible no-fly zone over Libya.

But with their increasing firepower, the rebels appeared to break the pattern of nonviolent revolts set by neighboring Egypt and Tunisia and now sweeping the Middle East — just as Colonel Qaddafi has shown a willingness to shed far more of his citizens’ blood than any of the region’s other autocrats.

The maneuverings by both sides suggested they were girding for a confrontation that could influence the shape of other protest movements and the responses of other rulers who feel threatened by insurrections. Colonel Qaddafi’s militias, plainclothes police and other paramilitary forces have kept the deserted streets of Tripoli under a lockdown.

And residents of Zawiyah said Sunday that his forces were massing again on its outskirts. As a caravan of visiting journalists left Zawiyah, a crowd of hundreds of Qaddafi supporters waving green flags and holding Qaddafi posters blocked the highway for a rally against the rebels. “The people want Colonel Muammar!” some chanted.

In interviews with ABC News, two of Colonel Qaddafi’s sons appeared to mix defiance and denial. “The people — everybody wants more,” said Saadie el-Qaddafi, apparently dismissing the public outcry for a more accountable government. “There is no limit. You give this, then you get asked for that, you know?”

He described the uprisings around the region as “an earthquake” and predicted, “Chaos will be everywhere.” If his father left, he said, Libya would face a civil war “one hour later.”

His brother, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, seemed to challenge journalists to look for signs of unrest. “Please, take your cameras tomorrow morning, even tonight,” he said. “Everything is calm. Everything is peaceful.”

But when government-paid drivers and minders took visiting journalists on an official tour to visit here Sunday morning, they found a town firmly in rebel hands, where Libyan officials and military units did not even attempt to enter. It was the second consecutive day that an official tour appeared to do more to discredit than bolster the government’s line, and questions arose about the true allegiance of the official tour minders, who appeared to mingle easily with people of rebel-held Zawiyah. Some suggested that the Qaddafi government might in fact have believed its own propaganda: that the journalists would discover in Zawiyah radical Islamists, or young people crazed by drugs procured by Osama bin Laden.

But the residents showed little interest in Islamist politics or hallucinogenic drugs. They mocked Colonel Qaddafi’s allegations, painted the tricolored pre-Qaddafi flag that has become the banner of the revolt on the side of a burned-out government building, and chanted, “Free, free, Libya.”

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