Rebels take control of eastern Libya

Rebels take control of eastern Libya

Growing tensions: Gadhafi defies revolt with tanks, warplanes

Government buildings burn after a night of riots in Libya’s capital Tripoli on Monday. NYT

Sporadic blasts could be heard in the eastern city of Tobruk, a Reuters correspondent there said, the latest sign that Gaddafi’s 41-year grip on the oil and gas exporting nation was weakening. “All the eastern regions are out of Gadhafi’s control now ... The people and the army are hand-in-hand here,” said the now former army major Hany Saad Marjaa.

Gadhafi was to announce “major reforms” in a speech shortly, Al Arabiya television said in a newsflash, citing Libyan state television, which would be his second appearance in two days. The UN refugee agency urged to Libya’s neighbours to grant refuge to those fleeing the unrest.

On the Libyan side of the border with Egypt, anti-Gadhafi rebels armed with clubs and Kalashnikov rifles welcomed visitors, one holding an upside-down picture of Gadhafi defaced with the words “the butcher tyrant, murderer of Libyans”, a Reuters correspondent who crossed into Libya reported. Hundreds of Egyptians flowed in the opposite direction on tractors and trucks, taking with them harrowing tales of state violence and banditry.

In the eastern town of Al Bayda, resident Marai Al Mahry told Reuters by telephone that 26 people had been shot dead overnight by Gadhafi loyalists.

“They shoot you just for walking on the street,” he said, sobbing uncontrollably as he appealed for help. Protesters were attacked with tanks and warplanes, he said.  Human Rights Watch says at least 233 people have been killed and opposition groups put the figure much higher but independent verification is impossible.

In Tripoli, residents said there was no visible security force presence on the streets. The only police present were directing traffic, they said, the day after reports that warplanes had bombed portions of the capital and mercenaries had shot civilians.  The revolt in OPEC member Libya has driven oil prices to a two-and-a-half-year high above $108 a barrel, and with no end in sight to the crisis, refugees were fleeing into Egypt.

Libyan guards have withdrawn from their side of the border and Egypt’s new military rulers said the main crossing would be kept open round-the-clock to allow the sick and wounded to enter.

Groups of rebels with assault rifles and shotguns, waved cheerily at the passing cars on a stretch of desert road, flicking the V-for-victory sign and posing with their guns, a Reuters correspondent reported.

As the fighting has intensified some supporters have abandoned Gadhafi. Tripoli’s envoy to India, Ali al-Essawi, resigned and told Reuters that African mercenaries had been recruited to help put down protests. Gadhafi’s son Saif on Sunday vowed his father would keep fighting “until the last man standing” and the Libyan leader appeared on television after days of seclusion to dismiss reports he had fled to the Venezuela of his ally Hugo Chavez.

“I want to show that I’m in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Do not believe the channels belonging to stray dogs,” said Gadhafi, who has ruled Libya with a mixture of populism and tight control since taking power in a military coup in 1969.