Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Libya protests: Gaddafi battles to control west

Libya protests: Gaddafi battles to control west

The BBC's Jon Leyne: "The only loyal supporters now shown on state TV are in Tripoli"

Libyan ruler Col Muammar Gaddafi is battling to retain control of Tripoli and areas in western Libya as protesters consolidated gains in the east and foreigners continued to flee.

Much of the capital is deserted as pro-Gaddafi gunmen roam the streets, with reports of uprisings in western towns such as Misurata, Sabratha and Zawiya.

Masses of protesters have been celebrating success in eastern towns.

Thousands of foreigners continue to leave, with chaos at Tripoli airport.

At least 300 people have died in the country's uprising.
'Many deaths'

An eyewitness in Tripoli said that the city was virtually closed, with many people hoping protesters and defecting soldiers would arrive from the east to help them.

A text message had been sent out by government officials telling civil servants and other workers to return to their jobs but many people are too scared to go on to the streets.

One Tripoli resident said: "I hope residents don't go to work - this can be our way of a peaceful protest - we will all stay at home indefinitely."

There were reports of gunmen opening fire on Tuesday morning on a queue of people at a bread shop in the Fashloum district, where there has been a heavy military crackdown, with three people killed.

Two naval gunships are reported to have been deployed facing the city.

One Tripoli resident told the BBC: "Anti-government protesters have disappeared. The streets are quiet. There are many, many deaths."

The resident also said doctors were reporting gunmen shooting people in hospitals.

Information from Libya is currently difficult to verify and reports cannot often be independently confirmed.

The BBC's Paul Danahar on the Tunisian border says unconfirmed reports suggest several towns between the border and Tripoli are now held by the anti-government forces but the roads in between are held by people loyal to Col Gaddafi.

Troops are said to have been sent to Sabratha after demonstrators burned government buildings, according to the Quryna news website.

The pre-Gaddafi Libyan flag was also reportedly raised in Zawiya, 50km (30 miles) west of Tripoli while other unconfirmed reports said protesters had seized control of Misurata, 200km east of Tripoli, after days of fighting.

He said one Tunisian man who crossed from Libya told him there was no law in the country and added: "God help them".