Qaddafi’s grip slipping in Libya, opposition takes control security in some pockets

February 22nd, 2011 - 7:05 pm ICT by ANI  

Cairo, Feb.22 (ANI): Libya appeared to slip further from the grip of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi on Tuesday, as opposition forces in eastern Libya moved to consolidate control of the region, arming themselves with weapons taken from security warehouses, and fighting continued in Tripoli, witnesses said.

In Tripoli, the government was striking back at protesters challenging Colonel Qaddafi’s over 40-year-long rule.

Security forces and militiamen backed by helicopters and warplanes besieged parts of the city overnight, according to witnesses and news reports from Tripoli.

Fighting was heavy at times on Monday night, witnesses said, and the streets were thick with special forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi fighting alongside mercenaries.

Hundreds of Qaddafi supporters took over the central Green Square in the capital after truckloads of militiamen arrived and opened fire on protesters, scattering them. Roving the streets in trucks, they shot freely as planes dropped what witnesses described as “small bombs” and helicopters fired on protesters. Residents said they now feared to leave their houses.

According to the New York Times, Colonel Qaddafi, whose whereabouts have been unknown, appeared briefly on state television at 2 a.m. on Tuesday to signal his defiance and deny rumors he had left the country.

“I want to show that I’m in Tripoli and not in Venezuela,” he said, calling the owners of the news channels reporting that he was leaving the country “stray dogs.”

With the Internet largely blocked, telephone service interrupted, and access to international journalists constrained, information remained limited.

There were conflicting reports about the situation Tuesday morning in Tripoli, with some witnesses reporting ongoing gunfire and renewed strafing by warplanes, and others saying the streets were momentarily quiet and being cleaned of evidence of the night’s violence.

With pro-government security forces either absent or defecting to join the opposition in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the center of the week-long rebellion, citizens armed with guns organized into informal security committees.

Large areas of eastern Libya along the Mediterranean coast also appeared to be under the opposition’s control.

The border with Tunis in the western part of the country, however, was reinforced by Libyan security forces.

People fleeing the country said they had their money and telephones confiscated, and were left “only with their clothes,” Al Jazeera reported.

The extent of the casualties remained unknown.

Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that it was struggling to confirm the number of people killed in the uprising, saying it had confirmed 233 deaths, most in Benghazi. Another international group estimated that that at least 500 people had died. (ANI)

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