Monday, February 21, 2011

Gadhafi to speak on Libyan uprising

Gadhafi to speak on Libyan uprising

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was expected to speak early Tuesday morning local time — the first comments by the long-time ruler on the violence that has hit his country as protesters demand his ouster.

A Libyan Foreign Ministry official confirmed to Al-Arabiya television that Gadhafi was to deliver a speech soon.

News of Gadhafi's pending address came after Libyan air force jets reportedly fired on protesters in Tripoli, the country's capital.

Arab television network al-Jazeera English played an audio interview with a witness purportedly from the capital describing a heavy aerial bombardment and intense shelling all over the city.

Libyan state TV said Monday a large military operation was underway against "pockets of terror."

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, a son of the country's longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi, was quoted by state TV as denying that the airstrikes targeted Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi. He said the attacks were on ammunition dumps in remote areas away from residential neighbourhoods.

In another development, military officials in Malta have confirmed that two Libyan pilots, both colonels, have defected to the island nation. The pilots took off in a pair of single-seater jets but refused to bomb protesters, according to media reports.

 Following the ouster of long-term leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, Libyan protesters have been demanding the resignation of Moammar Gadhafi, who has ruled the country for almost 42 years.

In Tripoli, armed militia units drove through the streets, using loudspeakers to tell people to stay in their homes, witnesses said. Others said gunmen fired rounds at the facades of houses to intimidate residents.

There were reports of one young man shot to death on the streets of Tripoli after gunmen opened fire to scatter youths who had congregated.

A woman in Tripoli who spoke to CBC News said she could hear gunfire, and was too afraid to leave her home.

"The city is in a big panic. It's not safe even to walk for a few minutes," she told CBC via audio-only on Skype because she did not want to be identified out of fear for her safety.

The woman said she had enough basic supplies while she remained in her home.
Banks, pharmacies closed

"We learned from Tunisia in January, so we had grocery supplies. Two days ago, we bought everything we need," she said. "We expected this was going to happen, but we didn't expect it to be as bad as it is now."

The woman said it was not safe enough to go to work on Monday, adding that banks, shops and pharmacies in Tripoli are closed.

A Canadian computer programmer who has lived in Tripoli for almost two years told CBC News' Zulekha Nathoo he has been hearing bombs go off sporadically. The Canadian also said he has been hearing machine-gun bursts lasting 20 to 40 seconds.

 The man also told CBC that a friend of his who works in a hospital emergency ward said the blood bank has been closed in Tripoli and that doctors have been trying to find another location.

Communications are difficult in Libya as international calls have been blocked and the internet has also been largely blocked.

Cracks began emerging among senior officials in the Libyan regime on Monday.

Libya's ambassador at the United Nations demanded Gadhafi step down. Ibrahim Dabbashi said if Gadhafi does not step down, "the Libyan people will get rid of him."

Dabbashi called on the international community to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent mercenaries, weapons and other supplies from reaching Gadhafi.

Separately, the pro-government news website Qureyna reported that Libya's justice minister quit to protest the "excessive use of force against unarmed protesters."

Gadhafi has not been seen since Friday, but Seif al-Islam Gadhafi said on state television that his father and security forces would fight "until the last bullet."

Egyptian state TV reported that 160 people died on Monday alone.
Protesters celebrate in Benghazi

Protesters celebrated in Benghazi, the country's second-largest city on Monday, claiming they had taken control of the streets. The Libyan flag at the city's main courthouse was pulled down and replaced with the flag of the monarchy that was ousted in the 1969 military coup that brought Gadhafi to power.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had seen some information that Gadhafi had fled to Venezuela. However, the Venezuelan government and Libya's deputy foreign minister have both denied it.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon talked to Gadhafi via telephone for about 40 minutes on Monday, and called for an immediate stop to the violence. He also called for the Libyan regime to respect human rights, including peaceful assembly and information, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

"The secretary general underlined the need to ensure the protection of the civilian population under any circumstances," Nesirky said. "He urged all parties to exercise restraint and called upon the authorities to engage in broad-based dialogue to address legitimate concerns of the population."