Security forces in Libyan city switch sides as Gadhafi clings on

Posted: 27/02/2011 by Eddie Unity in Africa
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CNN

Zawiya, Libya (CNN) — Libya’s embattled leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, seemed increasingly cornered Sunday as security forces defected to the opposition in a town a short drive from the capital, and the United Nations Security Council voted for tough restrictions on and possible war crimes charges against the Libyan regime.

Former security forces said they had switched sides and joined the opposition in Zawiya, a town about 55 kilometers (35 miles) from the capital, Tripoli. Some buildings in Zawiya showed signs of damage, including a freshly burnt-out police station.

CNN’s Nic Robertson saw armed civilians taking defensive positions on rooftops to prepare for a possible effort by Gadhafi loyalists to retake the town.

About 150 people rallied outside the town in support of Gadhafi later on Sunday, in what appeared to be a hastily organized demonstration.

CNN later saw a second small pro-government rally that may have been organized for the benefit of international journalists. CNN was also taken to an anti-Gadhafi rally where at least some people were armed.

Several Libyan cities are now in the control of the opposition, after weeks of protests inspired by demonstrations that toppled leaders who had been in power for decades in Tunisia and Egypt.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sunday Gadhafi “must go,” echoing a call by President Barack Obama a day earlier. “We have here a country descending into civil war with atrocious scenes of killing of protesters and government actually making war on its own people, so of course it is time for Col. Gadhafi to go,” Hague said, adding that he has revoked the diplomatic immunity in the United Kingdom of Gadhafi and his family.

Tunisians on the border with Libya waved old Libyan flags from before the Gadhafi era in support of the opposition, as tens of thousands surged towards the country that triggered the series of Arab world revolts.

About 100,000 people have fled violence in Libya in the past week, reports suggest.

The Tunisian army, charities and ordinary Tunisians are trying to help Libyans on the border, CNN saw.

Refugees said Tunisians were offering them food, water and even the use of phones as they wait to see how events in their country will unfold.

The Tunisian government reported Saturday that 40,000 people had crossed its borders since February 20, while Egypt reported 55,000 had crossed over since February 19, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Sunday. The evacuees include Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and many from Asian countries.

About 10,000 fled from Libya to Tunisia on Saturday, the Red Crescent said.

“Very large numbers of people amassed in the no man’s land between Libya and Tunisia in extremely cold conditions,” Red Crescent spokesman Joe Lowry told CNN Sunday. “People stood in the queue for six hours with no food, water, or access to sanitation.” The Red Crescent is affiliated with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

At least four people were carried away in stretchers due to crush injuries, and several lost consciousness as a result of the chaos.

“It was very worrying to see women passing their babies in cots over the crowd to keep them from harm,” Lowry said.

There were also chaotic scenes in Tripoli as people rushed to banks to claim a government handout of 500 dinars (just over $400) per family. There were also long lines in Zawiya.

Pharmacies in Tripoli were running out of blood pressure and diabetes medicines, a source in the capital told CNN.

Gadhafi has showed no sign of relinquishing power. On Sunday, the world waited to see whether the threat of sanctions will have any effect on a country where the death toll has reportedly topped 1,000.

But Gadhafi’s son, Saif, told CNN Saturday he was confident the regime could survive the unrest and ultimately reunite Libya.

Saif al-Islam Gadhafi — a prominent member of the government — added that he wanted this reunification to be accomplished without violence.

On Saturday night, the United Nations Security Council voted 15-0 on a draft resolution that includes an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel bans for Gadhafi and several of his family members and associates. The draft resolution also refers the situation unfolding in Libya to the International Criminal Court, and Gadhafi and others could face an investigation for potential war crimes.

“This resolution will be a signal (to) put an end to the fascist regime that is still in existence,” said Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, Libyan ambassador to the United Nations. Earlier Saturday, he renounced support for Gadhafi, calling him “a leader who loves nobody but himself.”

But Fouad Ajami, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told CNN Friday that Gadhafi survived sanctions before, in the aftermath of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

“The sanctions never worked,” he said. “Anyone with money … can break these sanctions.”

Military and security forces loyal to Gadhafi have killed more than 1,000 people, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has estimated.

Hours before the Security Council’s vote Saturday, Libya’s budding opposition picked a former top official as its interim leader.

Libya’s deputy ambassador to the world body, Ibrahim Dabbashi, indicated that he and fellow diplomats “support … in principle” a caretaker administration under the direction of former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdul Jalil.

City councils in areas no longer loyal to Gadhafi chose Jalil to head an interim government that would represent all of Libya and ultimately be based in Tripoli, according to Amal Bogagies, a member of the coalition of the February 17 Uprising, and a separate Libyan opposition source. Both are based in Benghazi, the eastern city that is under the control of the opposition.

Jalil was in Gadhafi’s government through Monday, when he quit to protest the “bloody situation” and “use of excessive force” against unarmed protesters, according to Libyan newspaper Quryna.

Days later, he told a Swedish newspaper he had evidence that Gadhafi ordered the 1988 bombing of a jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people.

Protests began February 15 in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city. At least several other cities are now thought to be under opposition control, according to eyewitnesses. There have been numerous reports of widespread violence — some of it perpetrated by foreign mercenaries and security forces loyal to Gadhafi, and some by protesters.

While CNN has staff in some cities, the network could not independently confirm reports for many areas in Libya. But CNN has compiled information through telephone interviews with witnesses.

Operations at several embassies — including those of Great Britain and the United States — in Tripoli have been effectively shuttered for the safety of their personnel. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he planned to speak with Obama in Washington on Monday.

For now, Libyans themselves are left to wait to see what happens next.

“We wait and see what tomorrow will bring,” a Tripoli man said Sunday. “We pray for a quick ending to this nightmare, with minimum bloodshed. No one is naive, however, to believe that Gadhafi is going to go easily.”

 

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