Gaddafi digs in as protests mount


    24 February 2011
    Last updated at 03:00 ET

    Reports from Libya say the area controlled by embattled leader Col Muammar Gaddafi is shrinking as the opposition consolidates its gains.

    Witnesses say the capital, Tripoli, is heavily guarded by pro-Gaddafi forces, with tanks deployed in the suburbs.

    Videos on the internet suggest a town 50km (30 miles) west of Tripoli has fallen to anti-government forces.

    Col Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, went on television on Wednesday evening to say that everything was “normal”.

    In the eastern city of Benghazi, residents have been queuing to be issued guns looted from the army and police in order to join what they are calling the battle for Tripoli.

    A number of military units in the east say they have unified their command in support of the protesters.

    The BBC’s Jon Leyne, in eastern Libya, says Col Gaddafi appears to be in control of an ever smaller area, possibly readying himself for a last stand at his home in Tripoli.

    Reports indicate the area is heavily guarded by loyalists, including armed militiamen in vehicles, our correspondent says.

    Death toll

    Thousands of foreigners are meanwhile still trying to flee Libya through ports, airports, and the Tunisian and Egyptian borders.

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    Help for UK nationals

    • The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to Libya
    • UK nationals in Libya wishing to get on the charter flight are advised to call the following numbers:
    • 020 7008 0000 from the UK or 021 3403644/45 from within Libya

    The overall death toll has been impossible to determine. Human Rights Watch says it has confirmed nearly 300 deaths, but the International Federation for Human Rights says at least 700 people have been killed.

    A French doctor working in Benghazi, Gerard Buffet, told the BBC the death toll there was at least 2,000.

    He said Col Gaddafi’s forces used jet fighters, mortars and rockets to fire on the opposition.

    US President Barack Obama has denounced the Libyan government’s actions as “outrageous and unacceptable”.

    He said he had ordered his administration team to prepare the “full range of options” for dealing with the crisis, but gave no details.

    In other developments:

    • Several provincial governors are reported to have defected to the opposition
    • Pro-Gaddafi forces have reportedly clashed with the opposition in the western cities of Zawiya, Sarathra and Ajdabiya, on the road to Col Gaddafi’s hometown of Surt
    • Opposition supporters have celebrated in the eastern cities of Benghazi and Tobruk, waving flags and setting off fireworks to mark their control over the area
    • US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will join a meeting of foreign ministers at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday

    The US, China and many European countries have sent in planes, ships and ferries to help people flee. Thousands of people, many of them African migrants, have also poured across Libya’s land borders, in vans piled high with furniture and luggage.

    The price of oil has jumped sharply in reaction to the continuing crisis in Libya. In New York, it passed $100 a barrel for the first time since 2008.



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    Gaddafi digs in as protests mount