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Gaddafi under threat as revolt hits Tripoli

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi fought an increasingly bloody battle to hang onto power yesterday when protests against his 41-year rule struck the capital Tripoli after days of violence in the east.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi fought an increasingly bloody battle to hang onto power yesterday when protests against his 41-year rule struck the capital Tripoli after days of violence in the east.

Residents reported gunfire in parts of Tripoli, and one political activist said warplanes had bombed the city. But state TV showed government supporters rallying and Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said warplanes had hit only ammunition dumps.

Forces loyal to Gaddafi had killed dozens of people across the country, human rights groups and witnesses said, prompting widespread condemnation from world leaders.

No independent verification of the reports was available, and communications with Libya from outside were difficult.

But a picture emerged of a leader who has loomed large on the world stage for decades and controls vast reserves of oil fighting for survival.

“What we are witnessing today is unimaginable. Warplanes and helicopters are indiscriminately bombing one area after another. There are many, many dead,” Adel Mohamed Saleh said in a live broadcast on al Jazeera television. “Anyone who moves, even if they are in their car, they will hit you.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was “time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed” in Libya.

A group of army officers issued a statement urging fellow soldiers to “join the people” and help remove Gaddafi.

The justice minister resigned in protest at the "excessive use of violence" against protesters and diplomats at Libya's mission to the United Nations called on the Libyan army to help overthrow “the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi.”

An analyst for London-based consultancy Control Risks said the reported air strikes indicated the end was near for Gaddafi.

Differing reports on attacks

Tripoli residents gave conflicting reports of violence, with some saying they could hear only gunfire in the Libyan capital and others saying warplanes were bombing the city.

“I went to the shop near the house, and it was OK. ... There was no terror,” said a reporter near the central Omar al-Mokhtar street and Green Square.

“I did not hear any firing from planes. ... During the day there were some helicopters flying around, but I do not hear any guns or shots or anything,” he said.

Libyan pilots defect, fly to Malta

Two Libyan air force fighter pilots defected yesterday and flew their jets to Malta where they told authorities they had been ordered to bomb protesters, Maltese government officials said.

They said the two pilots, both colonels, took off from a base near Tripoli. One of them has requested political asylum.

The pilots are being questioned by the Maltese police.

Berlusconi condemns Libyan force

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi yesterday condemned violence by Libyan forces against civilians as “unacceptable” and said he was “alarmed” over the situation in the North African state.

The statement by Berlusconi, who has cultivated close ties with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, comes after he was criticized for not speaking up earlier and saying that he did not want to “disturb” Gaddafi during the crisis.

Berlusconi called on the European Union and the international community to do everything to prevent the situation in Libya from degenerating.

 
 
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