Terror in Tripoli as Gaddafi threatens civil war

2011-02-26 12:21

Tripoli – Terrified residents braced for bloody battles in Tripoli today after a night of gunfire as Muammar Gaddafi said he was ready to arm civilian supporters to defeat a popular revolt.

US President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on the Libyan leader and four of his sons, in a clear attempt to weaken his teetering regime and punish his brutal crackdown on the most serious threat to his four-decade rule.

The escalating revolt to overthrow Gaddafi emboldened tens of thousands of protesters across the Arab world to step up demands for historic reforms.

After massive protests in Tunisia and Egypt forced the resignations of longtime leaders Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s ruler appeared to dig in for a bitter fight to the end.

The UN Security Council has ordered a special session today to consider a sanctions resolution against 68-year-old Gaddafi, on top of those ordered from the White House and by the European Union.

In Tripoli, witnesses said two of the three five-star hotels were closed and the third, the Corinthia, had started to evacuate.

With banks closed, the dollar was trading for two Libyan dinars on the black market, compared to 1.3 10 days ago, and the euro at 2.5 Libyan dinars compared to 1.7 10 days ago.

Electricity cut, gunfire rages Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, a childhood friend of Gaddafi, delivered an emotional speech to the Security Council, raising the spectre of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, asking for his country to be saved.

After Mohammed Shalgham’s speech, one Tripoli resident said that “people shouted with joy” but that just a few minutes later the electricity was cut and has not come back since.

“We were terrified. We thought that meant they were preparing for attacks. We grabbed whatever we could use as weapons and stayed by the door in case anyone broke in,” the resident said.

“We could still hear gunfire all night.”

Security forces opened fire indiscriminately on worshippers leaving prayers in the Libyan capital on Friday, witnesses said.

They said several people were killed in eastern suburbs where security forces had opened fire on previous days, but sustained gunfire was also reported in the western district of Ghut Ashaal.

Almost the entire east of Libya has slipped from Gaddafi’s control since the popular uprising began in the port city of Benghazi on February 15, inspired by the revolutions in neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.

In Benghazi, a spokesperson for the revolution said today they were eyeing plans for a transitional government to take power nationally.

“We are all waiting for Tripoli to end Gaddafi and his sons’ rule, and then we plan on working on a transitional government,” Abdelhafiz Ghoqa said.

At the revolution’s courthouse headquarters, an AFP reporter said five army colonels came in to defect.

One protester said: “We have to check everyone. We don’t want just anyone coming in. We are trying to keep this as popular as possible.”

Expatriates evacuated
Foreign governments have scrambled to evacuate thousands of expatriates who told of scenes of hell in the oil-rich North African country since the crisis broke out 12 days ago.

A British Royal Navy frigate with 207 evacuees from more than 20 countries docked in Malta from Benghazi today after a 35-hour Mediterranean crossing through rough seas.

In a brief but chilling address that presaged a bloody battle for the capital, the army colonel who grabbed power in 1969 told frenzied supporters in Tripoli’s Green Square yesterday that the rebels would be defeated.

“We will fight them and we will beat them,” he told a crowd of hundreds. “If need be, we will open all the arsenals.”

Libya’s deputy UN ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, said he expected more people to be killed and warned that Gaddafi is “psychologically unstable”, saying he had the choice between being killed or committing suicide.

Obama issued an executive order, seizing assets and blocking any property in the United States belonging to Gaddafi or four of his sons, saying the measures were not targeting the wealth of the Libyan people themselves.

The US president condemned the Libyan government’s violation of human rights, “brutalisation of its people and outrageous threats”.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has demanded decisive action by the Security Council, warning that any delay would add to the growing death toll, which he said came to more than 1 000.

Britain, France, Germany and the United States have drawn up a resolution that says the attacks on civilians could amount to crimes against humanity.

It calls for an arms embargo, and a travel ban and assets freeze against Gaddafi and his entourage.

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