Protesters control four Libyan cities; Oman singed by protests (Intro Roundup)

Monday, February 28, 2011

TRIPOLI/MANAMA/MUSCAT - Anti-government protesters in Libya gained control of four cities and formed a council to begin the transition of power from Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year-old regime as Canada too slapped sanctions on the oil-rich country. The pro-democracy movement caught Oman in its vortex while in Bahrain the protests escalated.

According to the BBC, unrest continues in and around Tripoli where a demonstration against Gaddafi in the capital’s suburb of Tajoura saw protesters chanting, “The blood of martyrs won’t go to waste.”

Anti-government forces now control the town of Zawiya, 50 km from Tripoli, but pro-Gaddafi forces are still surrounding the city.

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

The areas reported to be under control of anti-government forces include Az-Zawiya, Misurata, Benghazi and Al Baida, Al Jazeera reported.

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.

According to DPA, 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 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.

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

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US was 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”.

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 in 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 anti-regime protests are sweeing through north Africa and the Middle East.

The unrest 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.

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 killed six people.

Citing medical sources, AKI reported that six people were killed in clashes with security forces during pro-democracy protests Sunday against the regime of Sultan Qaboos bin Said who has been in power for four decades.

Qaboos Sunday pledged to create 50,000 more jobs and pay unemployment benefits to job seekers.

But on Monday, pro-democracy protesters blocked roads to the key northern industrial area of Sohar, which houses a refinery port and an aluminium factory, reports said.

There was sharp escalation in pro-democracy protests in Bahrain against king Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Hamad has been in power since 2002 when the country was turned into a constitutional monarchy, paving the way for an elected parliament. But the king has been the supreme authority of Shia-dominated Bahrain since 1971.

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.

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