Thursday, February 24, 2011

TRIPOLI: Libya’s Moamer Qadhafi clung to power after a bloodcurdling vow to reclaim control, as US President Barack Obama demanded the world speak as one to confront the veteran strongman’s fraying regime.

Thousands scrambled to flee what former colonial ruler Italy said was a “bloodbath” of hundreds of protesters in the oil-rich north African state, parts of which appear to have fallen to opposition control.
One of Qadhafi’s seven sons, Saadi, told Thursday’s Financial Times that after four decades in power, his father could retreat to a “big father” advisory role under a new government.
But the 68-year-old Qadhafi himself is hardly talking of retreat, vowing in a fiery televised address on Tuesday to purge opponents “house by house” and “inch by inch”.

Saudi King Abdullah, mindful of anger building in his own country, decreed an increase in social benefits as he returned to a Middle East rocked by anti-regime uprisings after three months abroad.
Abdullah, the 86-year-old monarch of the world’s leading oil exporter, was returning from back surgery in New York and recuperation in Morocco.
Elsewhere in the turbulent region, demonstrators in Yemen and Bahrain defiantly faced down teetering governments.
In Yemen, thousands of demonstrators vowed to keep protesting after government loyalists shot dead two of them, as deep fissures appeared in President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime.
Undeterred by reports of carnage in Libya, Bahrainis vowed not to budge from Pearl Square, the heart of the protests, despite the release of leading Shia opposition activists and renewed calls from King Hamad for talks.
Amid ominous signs of growing unrest in Jordan, the Islamist opposition said it planned to stage a “day of anger” with other parties on Friday to demand reforms.
Obama, in his first televised comments on the Libya crisis, said he would send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Geneva for a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council and for talks with allied foreign ministers.
“The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous, and it is unacceptable,” he said at the White House.
“So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters and further punish the people of Libya. These actions violate international norms, and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop.
“In a volatile situation like this one, it is imperative that the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice and that that has been our focus.”
Clinton said Washington was consulting closely with its partners and “will look at all the possible options to try to bring an end to the violence, to try to influence the government”.
The European Union is drawing up sanctions against Libya that could include an assets freeze, a visa ban and legal prosecution for regime leaders, a diplomat said.
Oil prices topped $112 on Thursday for the first time since September 2008 over the crisis in Libya, where Western oil companies have suspended operations.
But the political instability across the Middle East has not affected the world’s supply, Venezuela’s oil minister Rafael Ramirez said, adding that the OPEC cartel can increase production to offset any losses.
As international condemnation rained down on Qadhafi, European leaders braced for a coming tide of Libyan refugees across the Mediterranean Sea.
Thousands of Libyans are heading to the country’s borders with Egypt and Tunisia to try to escape, a UN spokesman said.
About 5,000 people have arrived at the border with Tunisia and 15,000 at the border with Egypt, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said, quoting figures from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“The office is concerned about access to health services for the injured, a lack of medical supplies and the need for blood,” Nesirky told reporters.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters that he feared 300,000 Libyans would attempt to flee to Europe.
Security forces fired on anti-regime demonstrators in the country’s third city Misrata on Wednesday, killing several people, witnesses said.
“Partisans of the regime have attacked unarmed demonstrators with their machine guns and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades),” a witness told AFP by telephone from the city, 200 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli. Several people were “martyred” in the shootings, the witness said.
But on the ground, Qadhafi opponents appeared in control of Libya’s coastal east, from the Egyptian border through to the cities of Tobruk and Benghazi, with government soldiers switching sides to join the uprising.
The first of thousands of foreigners fleeing Libya said Tripoli itself had turned into a war zone amid a merciless crackdown by Qadhafi’s forces.
Expatriate teacher Jane Macefield, arriving at London Gatwick Airport, told AFP she heard “20 blasts at least” from bombs or grenades and “the droning of planes” overhead as fighting raged late Tuesday.source

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