Gaddafi launches air strikes, Egypt PM quits (Roundup)

March 3rd, 2011 - 7:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Cairo/Tripoli/Sana’a, March 3 (IANS) The turmoil in the Arab world Thursday saw Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi ordering air strikes on a town held by anti-regime demonstrators even as Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq quit over his closeness to the deposed Hosni Mubarak.

The air strikes on the eastern Libyan oil terminal town of Brega took place as a defiant 68-year-old Gaddafi attempted to recapture areas held by rebel forces seeking to end his four decades in power.

Troops loyal to Gaddafi lost the town Wednesday after briefly capturing it from opposition fighters, AKI news agency reported.

Fighting was also reported in Ajdabiya town for a second straight day Thursday.

The Libyan unrest, which began Feb 14 after a mass revolt in Egypt forced Mubarak to flee, has spiralled with Gaddafi’s security forces launching fierce attacks on the tens of thousands of demonstrators.

The toll in two weeks of violence and fighting is reported to be around 2,000. The Libyan Human Rights League has estimated that as many as 6,000 people may have perished.

The defence ministry in the Hague said Thursday that three Dutch soldiers had been captured by militias loyal to Gaddafi during a failed million to evacuate Dutch nationals.

DPA reported that the soldiers were attacked and captured after their helicopter landed near the city of Sirte in a bid to spirit away two Dutch citizens. Sirte is Gaddafi’s hometown.

Gadaffi, who has ruled Libya since 1969, has said that Al Qaeda was behind the unrest and has refused to resign.

His defiance notwithstanding, Gaddafi has accepted an offer from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to mediate in the revolt against him.

According to Al Jazeera, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro has discussed the mediation plan with Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League.

The plan will involve a commission with representatives from Latin America, Europe and the Middle East to reach a negotiated outcome between the Libyan leader and opposition forces.

In a dramatic development in Egypt, Premier Ahmed Shafiq resigned.

The announcement came hours ahead of the start of a planned mass sit-in by activists in Cairo’s Tahrir square to demand the departure of Shafiq and his cabinet, DPA said.

Essam Sharaf, a former minister of transportation, will lead a new government.

In Yemen, another Arab country in turmoil, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has promised to step down within a year, according to opposition members who met him.

Saleh met representatives of the Joint Meeting Party, a coalition of opposition groups, late Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal said Thursday.

Saleh, who has ruled for over 30 years, has been an important regional ally for the US, which has provided millions of dollars in military aid to his government to help battle the Yemen-based affiliate of Al Qaeda.

In Jordan, the US will back political and economic reforms pledged by King Abdullah and new Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit.

Michael Posner, US assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, met Jordan’s leaders Wednesday and relayed Washington’s support, the US embassy said.

The Arab News website quoted the statement as saying that the “US support for the king’s call for a comprehensive programme of political and economic reform as the key to realizing the enormous potential of Jordan”.

The monarch earlier fired the cabinet of prime minister Samir Rifai after a series of anti-government demonstrations.

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