Libyan protesters defiant after Gaddafi speech

2011-02-23 12:46

Cairo – Heavy gunfire broke out in Libya’s capital today as forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi opened fire in the streets a day after the longtime leader vowed to defend his rule and called on supporters to crack down on anti-government protesters.

The fighting in Tripoli came as the opposition reportedly seized control of Misurata, with witnesses saying people were honking their horns and raising pre-Gaddafi 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 January 18, when protesters attacked offices and buildings affiliated with Gaddafi’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-Gaddafi 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.

Gaddafi 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 yesterday 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 600km Mediterranean coast, including several oil-producing areas.

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

Celebratory gunfire by Gaddafi 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 this morning as armed Gaddafi backers and mercenaries hired from other countries opened fire on the streets. She said her nephew has been missing since yesterday.

“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 UN 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 today 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.”

Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, meanwhile, said estimates of some 1 000 people killed in the violence in Libya are “credible” although he stressed information about casualties was incomplete.

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 Gaddafi’s vow to fight on and cling to power.


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