Bloody crackdown on anti-Gaddafi protesters continue

Monday, February 21, 2011

CAIRO/TRIPOLI - A bloody crackdown by Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi’s security forces has left hundreds of protesters killed as the military reportedly launched an airstrike on the capital Tripoli Monday.

Two military planes landed in the northeastern city of Benghazi after its pilots refused to bombard the city, shortly after news reports emerged from Malta about two Libyan fighter jet pilots who sought political asylum there.

Sources also indicated that planes with armed foreigners have landed in Tripoli’s airport earlier in the day.

The Dubai-based broadcaster Al Arabiya, citing witnesses, reported that more than 150 people had been killed during Monday’s clashes between supporters and opponents of Gaddafi in Tripoli alone.

Anti-government protests have spread across Libya, amid conflicting reports about the whereabouts of Gaddafi, who has ruled the country for 41 years.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in Brussels he had “some information” suggesting that the leader was en route to Venezuela. A senior Venezuelan government official denied the reports.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian-born cleric told Al Jazeera he had issued an edict calling for Gaddafi’s death.

“I am issuing a fatwa now to kill Gaddafi. Any army soldier, any man who can shoot this man, he should do it to relieve Libyans of his evil,” Youssef al-Qaradawi told Al Jazeera.

Since protests began last week, Gaddafi’s regime has cut off food, fuel and medical supplies to the different cities, as well as most communications. But he failed to prevent unrest from spreading across Libya.

The Doha-based channel aired pictures and video footage showing people killed in the northeastern city of Benghazi. It said they were killed by the “Abu Omar Brigade” which is responsible for protecting the Gaddafi family.

One video showed charred bodies as people were crying and shouting near them.

While some of the pictures were blurred by the channel, it indicated that more photographs would not be aired “because they were too horrific to show, no matter how much they were blurred”.

Libyan diplomats have been calling on Gaddafi to step down, while others resigned from their posts violence against protesters.

Minister of Justice Mustafa Abdel-Jalil resigned in protest at what he called an “excessive use of force against unarmed protesters”, he was quoted as saying by the Quryna, a Libyan newspaper with close ties to Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam.

The representatives of Libya in the Arab League as well as Libya’s ambassadors to China and India have announced their resignation. Several staff members at the Libyan embassy in Malta have joined hundreds of protesters calling for Gaddafi’s resignation.

The diplomatic mutiny also reached Libya’s mission to the United Nations in New York, where the deputy ambassador accused Gaddafi’s government of genocide, and predicted the demise of the regime.

“He has to get out,” Ibrahim Dabbashi, the second in command at the mission, said on Al Jazeera. “Either he gets out or the Libyan people will kick him out.”

“It is the end of the game,” he added. “We will soon see the fall of this regime.”

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasim Bin Jaber Al Thani called for an emergency meeting for the Cairo-based Arab League to discuss the situation in the North African country.

The demonstrations followed popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia that drove those countries’ leaders out of power.

Police stations and TV stations were set on fire Monday, as well as the People’s Hall, the main government building in the Libyan capital where parliament meets.

Fighting in Tripoli erupted, following similar protests in the second-largest city of Benghazi. Protesters managed to take over the embattled eastern city after violence left hundreds dead.

A member of the county’s armed forces confirmed to DPA that he and others in the military in Benghazi had joined the protesters and that security forces were fleeing.

He said that around 400 people were killed in the city during last week’s clashes.

Human Rights Watch has estimated the death toll from protests taking place in five Libyan cities since last week at 233.

Protesters are believed to have also taken control of other cities, including Ajdabiya and Sirte.

Independent verification has proved difficult due to the government’s clampdown on communications and travel to the area.

An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official said that some 4,000 Egyptian nationals had fled Libya by land routes Monday alone. Two Egyptians were said to have been killed in Libya.

The Egyptian army announced that the border to Libya would be open for anyone who wants to flee from the violence-plagued country.

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