Several killed in Tripoli's Friday protests

The first protest in Tripoli in several days came after the Friday prayers as tens of thousands of protesters across Libya staged similar demonstrations seeking an end to Muammar Gaddafi's 41 year old regime.

In Tripoli, where the crackdown has been intense over the past few days, security forces fired indiscriminately on the protesters, killing at least six people, according to Al Jazeera. The pan-Arab channel also reported heavy gun fire in various districts of Tripoli, including Fashloum, Ashour, Jumhouria and Souq Al.

As the world prepares to impose sanctions on Libya's regime, an increasingly isolated Gaddafi has held al-Qaeda responsible for the unprecedented protests.
Security forces loyal to Gaddafi attacked anti-regime protesters with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at a mosque in Zawiyah yesterday leaving nearly 100 people dead.

But, undeterred by the brutal military action, protesters, who have gained control of several eastern cities, advanced closer to 68-year-old Gaddafi's stronghold of Tripoli.

"The security forces fired indiscriminately on the demonstrators... There were deaths in the streets of Sug al-Jomaa," a resident of one of the capital's eastern suburbs was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera, giving an account of today's protests.

In Benghazi, where protests first erupted before protesters managed to oust the regime, thousands gathered for the Friday prayers and paid homage to those killed in the violence.

There is no clear picture of how many people have died in the violence of the past few days but France's top human rights official Francois Zimeray said yesterday that it could be as high as 2,000.

While several cities in the east of the country were reported to be in control of the protesters, the security forces were fighting hard to keep the west largely in their control.

The channel said that the Khamis Brigade, an army special forces brigade that is loyal to the Gaddafi family and is equipped with sophisticated weaponry, is fighting anti-government forces in the west.

There had also been reports of a fierce battle for control of an airport near the opposition-controlled city of Misrata, about 200 km from Tripoli.  However, the worst violence was witnessed in Zawiyah, about 50 km west of Tripoli. Gaddafi's opponents, however, reportedly managed to capture a military air base.

Speculation was also rife over the whereabouts of the Libyan ruler who, in a marked contrast to a 75-minute address from outside his Tripoli home on Tuesday, told the state TV on telephone last evening from an undisclosed destination that the uprising was not a people's revolt in the style of Egypt and Tunisia, but inspired by Osama bin Laden's outfit.

Joining the league of officials who have defected from the regime in protest of the violence, Libya's ambassadors to France and UNESCO also resigned from their positions. US President Barack Obama spoke over phone with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Premier David Cameroon and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and discussed the Libyan crisis.

The White House said the leaders discussed a range of options that both the US and European countries are preparing to hold the Libyan government accountable for its actions. It said all options were on the table, including sanctions.

State Department spokesman P J Crowley said the Obama administration supported a European proposal for the UN Human Rights Council to recommend Libya's expulsion from the body.

He said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at the direction of Obama, is travelling to Geneva on February 27-28 to address a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council and mobilise the international community against the Muammar Gaddafi regime of Libya.

Top UN human rights official, Navi Pillay said there are reports of mass killings of thousands in Libya that should force the global community to "step in vigorously" to end the crackdown against anti-government protesters.

UN Security Council is expected to meet soon in New York to consider further action against Gaddafi's government. British Prime Minister David Cameron also called for UN sanctions against the Libyan regime, and a probe into its potential crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, clashes were also reported in the city of Misurata, located 200 km east of Tripoli, where witnesses said a pro-Gaddafi army brigade attacked the city's airport with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

Violent clashes were also reported yesterday in the towns of Sabha in the south and Sabratha, near Tripoli. The UN World Food Programme meanwhile warned that Libya's food supply chain was "at risk of collapsing" as supply shortages hit the violence wracked country.

In another blow to the Libyan leader, his cousin and close aide Ahmed Qadhaf al-Dam announced that he had defected to Egypt in protest against violence in the country. Foreign governments were continuing to evacuate their citizens from the country, with thousands flooding Libya's land borders with Tunisia and Egypt.

Libyan state TV, meanwhile, announced that every family in the country would receive 500 dinars (USD 400), and that wages for some categories of public sector workers would increase by 150 per cent, in what was being seen as an effort by the regime to assuage anti-Gaddafi feelings.

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