Arab world unrest: Gaddafi stays on as 100,000 flee (Roundup)

Monday, February 28, 2011

TRIPOLI/MANAMA/MUSCAT - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s vice-like grip weakened with nearly 100,000 people fleeing the country Monday and more areas slipping out of his control. The days also saw unrest spreading in the Arab world with Oman the latest in the list of countries hit by a movement that began in Tunisia and Egypt.

Libya saw more areas being taken over by people against Gaddafi’s 41-year uninterrupted rule. While Bahrain saw protesters blocking the National Assembly, demonstrators Monday barricaded roads to a key industrial area in Oman.

As dawn broke over oil rich Libya, where an estimated 1,000 people have been killed in two weeks, tension simmered.

Al Zawiya town, which was taken over Sunday by protesters, saw security forces loyal to Gaddafi entering the Air Force Academy and asking students to attack the city with them, a witness told Al Arabiya television Monday. The city houses the country’s largest oil refinery.

Ezeldina, a resident, told Al Jazeera that people had raided military camps to gear themselves for a possible raid by government forces.

DPA reported that residents have warned against an attack on the city, saying that it will be “a massacre” since most of them “have machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons”.

Pro-democracy protesters also shot down a helicopter and captured its crew in Libya’s third largest city Misurata, an opposition group said Monday.

The Libyan Youth Movement said online that protesters in Misurata shot down the helicopter a day after government troops loyal to Gaddafi were forced to leave the city after protesters gained control.

Opposition in the country’s second largest city Benghazi have begun preparing for a transition of power and formed new political institutions in the “liberated” cities.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US was also reaching out to Libya’s opposition, talking to “the many different Libyans who are attempting to organise in the east and as the revolution moves westward there as well”.

The western part of Libya, including Tripoli and Surt, an important centre for oil production, are currently under the control of Gaddafi’s supporters.

BBC cited UN officials as saying that tens of thousands of migrants were stranded near Libya’s Tunisian border with a thousand new arrivals every hour.

The UN estimates that about 100,000 people have fled anti-government unrest in Libya over the past week.

“We are committed to assisting Tunisia and Egypt in helping each and every person fleeing Libya,” Antonio Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees, said in a statement from Geneva Sunday.

With the situation worsening in Libya, Canada imposed sanctions on the country in a swift Sunday night move after reports that Gaddafi and his family were planning to withdraw millions of dollars held in Canadian banks.

The unrest in Libya as well as in other countries, including Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria and Iraq, were triggered after weeks of unrest in Tunisia toppled the 23-year-rule of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali Jan 14. A similar uprising began Jan 25 in neighbouring Egypt, leading to the fall of president Hosni Mubarak Feb 11 after 30 years in power.

There was sharp escalation in protests in Bahrain.

Protesters Monday blocked the entrances to the upper house of the National Assembly, or Shura, forcing a temporary shutdown, DPA said.

Students from several high schools also joined the protests across the Gulf island - either marching to parliament or demonstrating inside their schools in support of the nationwide demands since Feb 14 for political reforms.

The demonstrators surrounding the National Assembly building called for the release of detainees and the prosecution of ministers and officials involved in attacks on peaceful protesters, in which seven died and hundreds were injured since the unrest began.

In Oman, pro-democracy protesters Monday blocked roads to a key industrial area, braving rubber bullets and teargas used by security forces, a day after clashes between demonstrators and government troops that killed six people.

Citing medical sources, AKI reported that six people were killed in clashes with security forces during pro-democracy protests Sunday.

Pro-democracy protesters turned out again Monday in Oman and blocked roads to the key northern industrial area of Sohar, which houses a refinery port and an aluminium factory, reports said.

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