As more cities fall into the hands of the pro-democracy protesters, Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, is hanging on to the capital where security forces loyal to him seem to have a firm hold, even amid reports of sporadic gunfire.
On Sunday, protesters had taken control of the city of Zawiyah, 50km from Tripoli, further shrinking the control of Gaddafi’s government after the opposition took over most of the eastern part of the country.
However, tanks were surrounding Zawiyah and locals feared an imminent raid by pro-Gaddafi forces.
An AFP reporter arriving in Nalut, 24km west of Tripoli, found that Gaddafi’s security forces had entirely disappeared from the streets.
“The towns of Rhibat, Kabaw, Jado, Rogban, Zentan, Yefren, Kekla, Gherien and Hawamed have also been free for days. In all these towns, Gaddafi’s forces have gone and a revolutionary committee put in place,” Shaban Abu Sitta, a lawyer and member of a local committee, said.
“We have placed ourselves under the authority of the interim government in Benghazi,” he explained, referring to the opposition council formed by former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil in the east of the country.
In an interview with Serbian television, a defiant Gaddafi repeated his message that he will stay in Libya and blamed foreigners and al-Qaeda for the unrest that is threatening his 41-year rule.
The interview with TV Pink in Belgrade was carried out over the phone while Gaddafi was in his office in Tripoli.
The Libyan leader also condemned the United Nations Security Council for imposing sanctions on him and launching a war crimes inquiry.
|An opposition army officer teaches the use of an |
anti-aircraft gun to civilians in Benghazi [Reuters]
Gaddafi said the UN council could not see that the capital, Tripoli, was secure.
Residents said banks were open but bread and petrol remained tightly rationed as the opposition grip on large swathes of the nation disrupted the distribution of basic goods.
People gathered at banks trying to register for a handout sum of approximately $400 per family unit, promised by the government on Friday.
Earlier, Gaddafi’s son denied in a US television interview that turmoil was sweeping the country and said the military did not use force against the people, despite reports to the contrary.
There was a “big, big gap between reality and the media reports,” Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, told ABC News’ “This Week” television programme. “The whole south is calm. The west is calm. The middle is calm. Even part of the east.”
His assessment came as much of the oil-producing regions, including the second city of Benghazi, was in protesters’ hands.
Saif Gaddafi also denied allegations that the military was targeting Libyan citizens.
“Show me a single attack, show me a single bomb,” he said in the interview. “The Libyan air force destroyed just the
ammunition sites. That’s it.”
The death toll from the violent crackdown on protesters is estimated by some diplomats to be about 2,000.
The UK said on Sunday it was freezing the assets of Gaddafi and members of his family, implementing a UN Security Council resolution.
“I have today taken action to freeze the assets in the UK of Colonel Gaddafi and his family or those acting on their behalf
so that they cannot be used against the interests of the Libyan people,” finance minister George Osborne said in a statement.
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Meanwhile, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was “reaching out” to opposition groups, prepared to offer “any kind of assistance” to Libyans seeking to overthrow the regime.
However, opponents of Gaddafi forming a National Libyan Council in the east said they did not want any foreign intervention in the country.
The UN Security Council has imposed a travel and assets ban on Gaddafi’s government and, with exceptional unanimity, ordered an investigation into possible crimes against humanity by the Libyan strongman [See a list of those targeted by the sanctions].
Hana Elgallal, a legal and human rights expert in Benghazi, said some in Libya will be disappointed that the UN did not impose a no-fly zone.
“I’m one person who was hoping that we’d get that,” she told Al Jazeera.
“We will not be able to move and help Tripoli because of the fear that he will use his planes. But whatever we get now we will look at it positively and consider it a victory and success.
“Hopefully things will escalate in our benefit soon to defuse the massacres in Tripoli.”
The UN move came amid increased international criticism of Gaddafi’s crackdown on protests. Barack Obama, the US president, has called on Gaddafi to “leave now.”
The foreign minister of Italy, Gaddafi’s closest European ally, said on Sunday that the end of the Libyan leader’s rule was “inevitable”.
Franco Frattini also said a friendship and co-operation treaty between Libya and Italy was “de facto suspended”.
“We have reached, I believe, a point of no return,” Frattini told Sky Italia television.
Australia has also moved to put pressure on the Libyan government by imposing unilateral sanctions. Kevin Rudd, the foreign minister, told Al Jazeera that more measures need to be taken against Gaddafi and his government.
“There is one critical element of the UN Security Council resolution, which we in Australia have strongly argued for, for the last week, and that is a reference to the International Criminal Court,” he said.
“This is critical for the regime in Tripoli to understand. That is, if they take further actions of violence against innocent civilians in Libya, it is not just those who issue orders, but those who pull the trigger who will then become subject to the jurisdiction of the criminal court.”
‘Enemy of God’
His comments came as armed protesters in the eastern city of al-Baida threatened to march on to the capital.
Al Jazeera obtained video of the protesters who said they are planning to march on to Tripoli and claim to have seized tanks and weapons from the army.
Their claims came a day after hundreds of Tripoli residents, shouting “Gaddafi is the enemy of God” and shaking their fists, vowed on Saturday to fight Gaddafi at the funeral of a man killed by the Libyan leader’s soldiers.
In a poor neighbourhood of the Libyan capital that is openly defiant of Gaddafi’s more than 41-year-old rule, hundreds of men gathered to pay tribute to one of five people they said had been killed when troops fired on protesters late on Friday.
The number could not be independently confirmed.
“We will demonstrate again and again, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow,” said Isham, 34, an engineer.
His voice breaking with emotion, another man, Ismail, said: “Gaddafi forces came here, they shot everywhere during a demonstration that was peaceful.”
From Misurata, a major city 200km east of Tripoli, residents and exile groups said by telephone that a thrust by forces loyal to Gaddafi, operating from the local airport, had been rebuffed by the opposition.
“There were violent clashes last night and in the early hours of the morning near the airport,” Mohammed, a resident of the town, said. “An extreme state of alert prevails in the city.”
He said several mercenaries from Chad had been detained by the anti-Gaddafi opposition in Misurata. The report could not be verified but was similar to accounts elsewhere of Gaddafi deploying fighters brought in from African states where he has longstanding allies.