Eastern Libya 'falls to anti-Gaddafi rebels'

Rebel soldiers said the eastern region of Libya had broken free from Muammar Gaddafi.

Eastern Libya 'falls to anti-Gaddafi rebels'

Rebel soldiers said the eastern region of Libya had broken free from Muammar Gaddafi, who witnesses said was using tanks, warplanes and mercenaries to fight a growing uprising against his rule.

Sporadic blasts could be heard in the eastern city of Tobruk, a Reuters correspondent there said, the latest sign that Gaddafi's 41-year grip on the oil and gas exporting nation was weakening.

"All the eastern regions are out of Gaddafi's control now ... The people and the army are hand-in-hand here," said the now former army major Hany Saad Marjaa.

Gaddafi was to announce "major reforms" in a speech shortly, Al Arabiya television said in a newsflash, citing Libyan state television, which would be his second appearance in two days.

The U.N. refugee agency urged to Libya's neighbours to grant refuge to those fleeing the unrest, which was triggered by decades of repression and popular revolts that toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

On the Libyan side of the border with Egypt, anti-Gaddafi rebels armed with clubs and Kalashnikov rifles welcomed visitors, one holding an upside-down picture of Gaddafi defaced with the words "the butcher tyrant, murderer of Libyans", a Reuters correspondent who crossed into Libya reported.

Hundreds of Egyptians flowed in the opposite direction on tractors and trucks, taking with them harrowing tales of state violence and banditry.

In the eastern town of Al Bayda, resident Marai Al Mahry told Reuters by telephone that 26 people including his brother Ahmed had been shot dead overnight by Gaddafi loyalists.

"They shoot you just for walking on the street," he said, sobbing uncontrollably as he appealed for help.

Protesters were attacked with tanks and warplanes, he said.

"The only thing we can do now is not give up, no surrender, no going back. We will die anyways, whether we like it or not. It is clear that they don't care whether we live or not. This is genocide," said Mahry, 42.

Human Rights Watch says at least 233 people have been killed and opposition groups put the figure much higher but independent verification is impossible.

In Tripoli, residents told Reuters there was no visible security force presence on the streets. The only police present were directing traffic, they said, the day after reports that warplanes had bombed portions of the capital and mercenaries had shot civilians.

The revolt in OPEC member Libya has driven oil prices to a 2 1/2 year high above $108 a barrel, and with no end in sight to the crisis, refugees were fleeing into Egypt.

"Five people died on the street where I live," Mohamed Jalaly, 40, told Reuters at Salum on his way to Cairo from Benghazi. "You leave Benghazi and then you have ... nothing but gangs and youths with weapons," he added. "The way from Benghazi is extremely dangerous," he said.

Libyan guards have withdrawn from their side of the border and Egypt's new military rulers -- who took power following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak on Feb.11 -- said the main crossing would be kept open round-the-clock to allow the sick and wounded to enter.

Groups of rebels with assault rifles and shotguns, waved cheerily at the passing cars on a stretch of desert road, flicking the V-for-victory sign and posing with their guns, a Reuters correspondent reported.

One of the Libyans, mocking the personality cult cultivated by Gaddafi, pointed at graffiti which read: "No God, but Allah".

Libyan security forces have cracked down fiercely on demonstrators across the country, with fighting spreading to Tripoli after erupting in Libya's oil-producing east last week, in a reaction to decades of

As the fighting has intensified some supporters have abandoned Gaddafi. Tripoli's envoy to India, Ali al-Essawi, resigned and told Reuters that African mercenaries had been recruited to help put down protests.

"The fall of Gaddafi is the imperative of the people in streets," he said. The justice minister also quit and a group of army officers urged soldiers to "join the people". Two pilots flew their warplanes to nearby Malta.

"Condemnations"

Gaddafi's son Saif on Sunday vowed his father would keep fighting "until the last man standing" and the Libyan leader appeared on television after days of seclusion to dismiss reports he had fled to the Venezuela of his ally Hugo Chavez.

"I want to show that I'm in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Do not believe the channels belonging to stray dogs," said Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya with a mixture of populism and tight control since taking power in a military coup in 1969.

World powers have condemned the use of force against protesters, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accusing Libya of firing on civilians from warplanes and helicopters. The Security Council was to discuss Libya at 1400 GMT.

Demonstrations spread to Tripoli from the second city Benghazi, cradle of the revolt that has engulfed a number of towns and which residents say is now in the hands of protestors.

Residents said anxious shoppers were queuing outside stores to try to stock up on food and drink. Some shops were closed.

In Tripoli, one resident said locals were patrolling their neighbourhood at night to protect it from roaming mercenaries, reporting sniper fire and the use of military transport helicopters to ferry security forces about.

Reuters

Last Mod: 22 Şubat 2011, 17:22
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