Libyan conflict is hardest-fought of Arab uprisings; Western leaders step up calls for Gaddafi to quit
Rebels awaited a counter-attack by Muammar Gaddafi's forces on Monday, after
the Libyan leader defied calls for him to quit in the hardest-fought of the
Arab world's wave of uprisings.
Rebels holding Zawiyah, only 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli, said about
2,000 troops loyal to Gaddafi had surrounded the city.
"We will do our best to fight them off. They will attack soon,"
said a former police major who switched sides and joined the rebellion.
"If we are fighting for freedom, we are ready to die for it."
Residents even in parts of the capital Tripoli have thrown up barricades
against government forces. A general in the east of the country, where
Gaddafi's power has evaporated, said his forces were ready to help rebels in
"Our brothers in Tripoli say: `We are fine so far, we do not need
help'. If they ask for help we are ready to move," said General Ahmed El Gatrani,
one of most senior figures in the mutinous army in Benghazi.
Analysts say they expect rebels to eventually take the capital and kill or
capture Gaddafi, but add that he has the firepower to foment chaos or civil war
- a prospect he and his sons have warned of.
Monday looked likely to see nervousness in oil markets. NYMEX crude for
April delivery was up $1.12 at $99.00 barrel in Globex electronic trading by
2308 GMT on Sunday. Libya pumps only 2 percent of world oil and Saudi Arabia
has boosted output, but traders fear turmoil intensifying in the Arab world.
Serbian television quoted Gaddafi as blaming foreigners and al Qaeda for the
unrest and condemning the UN Security Council for imposing sanctions and
ordering a war crimes inquiry.
"The people of Libya support me. Small groups of rebels are surrounded
and will be dealt with," he said.
European powers said it was time for Gaddafi to stand down and Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton said the United States was "reaching out" to
Residents of Zawiyah told of fierce fighting against pro-Gaddafi
paramilitaries armed with heavy weapons.
"Gaddafi is crazy. His people shot at us using rocket-propelled
grenades," said a man who gave his name as Mustafa. Another man called
Chawki said: "We need justice. People are being killed. Gaddafi's people
shot my nephew."
There were queues outside banks in Tripoli on Sunday for the 500 Libyan
dinars ($400) the government had promised it would start distributing to each
From Misrata, a city 200 km (120 miles) east of Tripoli, residents said by
phone a thrust by forces loyal to Gaddafi, operating from the airport, had been
rebuffed with bloodshed.
But Libyan exile groups said later aircraft were firing on the city's radio
In the eastern city of Benghazi, opponents of the 68-year-old leader said
they had formed a National Libyan Council to be the "face" of the
revolution, but it was unclear who they represented.
They said they wanted no foreign intervention and had not made contact with
The "Network of Free Ulema," claiming to represent "some of
Libya's most senior and most respected Muslim scholars", issued a
statement urging "total rebellion" against Gaddafi and endorsing the
formation of an "interim government" announced two days ago.
Western leaders, emboldened by evacuations that have brought home many of
their citizens from the vast desert state, spoke out more clearly than before
"We have reached, I believe, a point of no return," Italy's
Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said, adding it was "inevitable" for
Gaddafi to leave power.
Britain revoked Gaddafi's diplomatic immunity and said it was freezing his
family's assets. "It is time for Colonel Gaddafi to go," foreign secretary
William Hague said.
Three British military planes evacuated 150 civilians from Libya's desert on
Sunday, after a similar operation on Saturday.
Wealthy states have sent planes and ships to bring home expatriate workers
but many more, from poorer countries, are stranded. Thousands of Egyptians
streamed into Tunisia on Sunday, complaining Cairo had done nothing to help
Malta said it had refused a Libyan request to return two warplanes brought
to the island by defecting pilots last Monday.
Gaddafi, once branded a "mad dog" by Washington for his support of
militant groups worldwide, had been embraced by the West in recent years in
return for renouncing some weapons programmes and, critically, for opening up
While money has flowed into Libya, many people, especially in the
long-restive and oil-rich east, have seen little benefit and, inspired by the
popular overthrow of veteran strongmen in Tunisia and Egypt, on either side of
their country, they rose up to demand better conditions and political freedoms.