Feb 282011
 
Authors: McClatchy-Tribune

CAIRO and BENGHAZI, Fighting between rebels and government loyalists in Libyan cities intensified Monday as the United Nations reported that more than 100,000 refugees had fled into Tunisia and Egypt over the last week to escape the bloodshed that had drawn international condemnation.

Rebels in the city of Misurata, about 120 miles east of the capital of Tripoli, reportedly shot down a government plane and pushed back an offensive by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to retake the city. In Zawiya, about 30 miles east of Tripoli, government forces surrounded rebels but had not forced them to retreat.

The fighting across Libya came as international concern over days of bloodshed deepened. Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief for the European Union, said: “What is going on with the massive violence against peaceful demonstrators shocks our conscience. It should spring us into action.”

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said his country was dispatching planes carrying doctors and medical supplies to the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Meanwhile, the United Nations warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis as refugees, many of them migrant workers, fled into Tunisia and Egypt.

“We call upon the international community to respond quickly and generously to enable these governments to cope with this humanitarian emergency,” said Antonio Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees.

On Sunday, Zawiya, a city of 210,000 just 30 miles west of Tripoli, was shaping up to be a potential focal point for clashes as anti-government forces with tanks and anti-aircraft guns massed throughout the city center, and Gadhafi forces surrounded the outskirts with tanks and military checkpoints, residents said.

From the east, small bands of armed men traveled in the direction of the capital from Benghazi.

The developments in Libya occurred as the wave of unrest continued Sunday throughout North Africa and the Middle East, enveloping the usually sleepy gulf sultanate of Oman, where government forces were blamed for at least two protesters’ deaths.

But the world’s attention remained focused on Libya as military and civilian leaders in Benghazi, the city that gave birth to the uprising, said they had no immediate plans to send large groups of fighters to Tripoli to assist other rebels besieging the capital. Instead, individual fighters have gone on their own.
Khaled ben Ali, an organizer of the provisional government in Benghazi where the eastern uprising against Gadhafi erupted Feb. 17, said Sunday that a total of about 300 men were traveling in small groups in private cars, with little or no coordination among them or with protesters in Tripoli.

At a Benghazi army barracks, rebels collected weapons including anti-aircraft guns and Kalashnikov rifles taken from Gadhafi loyalists. There was continuous talk about going to Tripoli, but no serious effort had been mobilized, air force Col. Ahmed Omar said.

“Our bodies are here, but our hearts are in Tripoli,” he said. “We are thinking, the idea has been there since the first day Benghazi was liberated, trying to get to Tripoli.”

A few men phoned the provisional government center in Benghazi’s central courthouse Sunday to report that they had arrived on the eastern outskirts of Tripoli, Ben Ali said. But the vast majority of men have not been heard from since leaving Benghazi over the last several days, other officials said.

Most of the fighters are impassioned young men eager to play a role in deposing Gadhafi, who has ruled for 41 years. A few are soldiers who defected from Gadhafi’s army, Ben Ali said, adding that leaders of the rebellion don’t fully trust them.

Inside Tripoli, the situation was grim. Two-hour lines awaited people seeking bread or fuel. Official forces melted away to be replaced by young men or teenagers who were armed by Gadhafi, giving the city a sense of wild unpredictability.

“The city is controlled by these mad dogs. They make it absolutely impossible to enunciate any view against the government,” a sobbing 62-year-old businessman said by phone.

The Gadhafi government attempted to appease the uprising with an announcement on state television Sunday that $400 grants would be distributed to each Libyan family as part of the “beginning of the redistribution of oil wealth to Libyans.” But long lines of people at the banks were turned away.

 Posted by at 3:46 pm

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