Libyan Revolution: Gaddafi`s grip loosens, rebels seize city near capital

Launching a strong rebellion, anti-Gaddafi forces seized control of Zawiyah, a city west of Tripoli.

Updated: Feb 28, 2011, 00:28 AM IST

Zawiyah: Armed men opposed to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi were in control of Zawiyah, about 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital Tripoli, on Sunday and their red, green and black flag flew above the town.

"This is our revolution," a crowd of several hundred people chanted in the center of the town where charred buildings stood pockmarked with bullet holes and burned-out vehicles lay abandoned in the streets.

One man in the center of Zawiyah, who gave his name as Mustafa, said seven people were killed in the latest clashes with pro-Gaddafi security forces and many more were wounded.

"But Zawiyah is free like Misrata and Benghazi. Gaddafi is crazy. His people shot at us using rocket-propelled grenades," he said, referring to towns in the east of the country freed a week ago by a disparate coalition that combined people power with defecting military units.

Another man in Zawiyah, called Chawki, said: "We need justice. People are being killed. Gaddafi`s people shot my nephew.

"We need help from outside. We will never use force or harm anyone. We just want our civil rights ... He (Gaddafi) has to go. There is no other way."

The scene in Zawiyah was another indication that Gaddafi`s grip on power appears to be shrinking by the day.

Reuters correspondents have found residents in some neighborhoods of the capital Tripoli proclaiming open defiance after security forces melted away.

"Gaddafi is the enemy of God!" a crowd chanted on Saturday in Tajoura, a poor neighborhood of Tripoli, at the funeral of a man they said was shot down by Gaddafi loyalists the day before.

Now, residents said, those security forces had disappeared.

Locals had erected barricades of rocks and palm trees across rubbish-strewn streets, and graffiti covered many walls. Bullet holes in the walls of the houses bore testimony to the violence.

The residents, still unwilling to be identified for fear of reprisals, said troops fired on demonstrators who tried to march from Tajoura to central Green Square overnight, killing at least five people. The number could not be independently confirmed.

Libyan state television again showed a crowd chanting their loyalty to Gaddafi in Green Square on Saturday. But journalists there estimated their number at scarcely 200.

From Misrata, a major city 200 km (120 miles) east of Tripoli, residents said by telephone that a thrust by forces loyal to Gaddafi, operating from the local airport, had been rebuffed with bloodshed by the opposition.

"There were violent clashes last night and in the early hours of the morning near the airport," one resident, Mohammed, told Reuters. "An extreme state of alert prevails in the city."

He said several mercenaries from Chad had been detained by rebels in Misrata. The report could not be verified but was similar to accounts elsewhere of Gaddafi deploying fighters brought in from African states where he has long had allies.

The UN Security Council unanimously imposed travel and asset sanctions on Gaddafi and close aides, ratcheting up pressure on him to quit before any more blood is shed in a popular revolt against his rule.

It also adopted an arms embargo and called for the deadly crackdown against anti-Gaddafi protesters to be referred to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution of anyone responsible for killing civilians.

Western leaders, their rhetoric emboldened by evacuations that have sharply reduced the number of their citizens stranded in the oilfields and cities of the sprawling desert state, spoke out more clearly to say Gaddafi`s 41-year rule must now end.

"When a leader`s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now," an aide to US President Barack Obama said of phone talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over Libya.

The death toll from 10 days of violence in Libya is estimated by diplomats at about 2,000.

Talk of possible military action by foreign governments remained vague, however. It was unclear how long Gaddafi, with some thousands of loyalists -- including his tribesmen and military units commanded by his sons -- might hold out against rebel forces comprised of youthful gunmen and mutinous soldiers.

Bureau Report