Bodies lie behind Gadhafi's façade

Officials' guided tour for journalists fails to conceal what's going on just off the route

New York TimesFebruary 27, 2011 

  • YEMEN: A prominent tribal leader resigned from the ruling party - a major blow to President Ali Abdullah Saleh - and nationwide demonstrations continued.

    BAHRAIN: Thousands of protesters marched on a former office of Prime Minister Sheik Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the king's uncle, to press for his removal. A Shiite opposition leader returned from exile to join the protests.

    EGYPT: A committee formed to draft changes to the constitution proposed a limit of two four-year terms on the presidency and loosened rules limiting competition for the post. Current law allows an unlimited number of six-year terms.

    ALGERIA: Hundreds of demonstrators protested in Algiers to demand the ouster of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika but were far outnumbered by police, The Associated Press said.

    IRAQ: Violent demonstrations continued, and the country's most-revered Shiite cleric urged the government to heed protesters' demands.

    New York Times

  • 150 plucked out of Libya

    British military planes entered Libyan air space in a daring rescue of more than 150 people, many of them oil workers, from desert locations, officials said Saturday.

    The C-130 Hercules planes, carrying Britons and other nationals, safely landed in Malta after picking up the civilians south of the eastern Libyan port of Benghazi, Defense Secretary Liam Fox said.

    The rescue mission was bold because few planes have been able to fly through Libyan air space.

    "I can confirm that two RAF C-130 Hercules aircraft have evacuated more than 150 civilians from desert locations south of Benghazi," Fox said.

    One of those rescued said the military plane he boarded in Libya was supposed to carry about 65 people but quickly grew to more than double that.

    "It was very cramped, but we were just glad to be out of there and getting on the flight," said Patrick Eyles, 43, a Briton who arrived on one of the C-130s at Malta International Airport.

    Associated Press

— A bold play by Col. Moammar Gadhafi to prove that he was firmly in control of Libya appeared to backfire Saturday as foreign journalists he invited to the capital discovered blocks of the city in open revolt.

Witnesses described snipers and anti-aircraft guns fired at unarmed civilians, and security forces were removing the dead and wounded from streets and hospitals, apparently in an effort to hide the mounting toll.

The United Nations Security Council, meanwhile, unanimously approved sanctions aimed at forcing Gadhafi to halt brutal onslaughts that he has unleashed in a bid to crush an 11-day-old insurrection.

The Security Council, after a day of discussions behind closed doors and consultations with home capitals, agreed to freeze the assets of Gadhafi, his four sons and one daughter, and to ban travel by the whole family plus 10 close associates, McClatchy Newspapers reported. Possible war crimes charges would be referred to the International Criminal Court, McClatchy said.

On Saturday, Government-picked drivers escorted journalists on tours of the city, but evidence of the unrest's extent was unmistakable. Workers were still hastily painting over graffiti calling Gadhafi a "bloodsucker" or demanding his ouster. Just off the tour route were long bread lines where residents said they were afraid to be seen talking to reporters.

And though government forces dominated the city center with heavily armed checkpoints and orange-suited cleanup crews, there were signs of defiance in other neighborhoods, where the streets were blocked by makeshift barricades of broken televisions, charred tree trunks and cinder blocks left over from protests and street fights the night before.

"I have seen more than 68, I think, people killed," said a doctor in Tajoura who gave his name only as Hussein. "But the people who have died, they don't leave them in the same place. We have seen them taking them in the Gadhafi cars, and nobody knows where they are taking the people who have died. Even the ones with just a broken hand or something they are taking away."

In some ways, the mixed result of Gadhafi's theatrical gamble - opening the curtains to the world with great fanfare, even though the stage is in near-chaotic disarray - is an apt metaphor for the increasingly untenable situation in the country.

There were reports Saturday that thousands of armed rebels from other regions of the country were marching toward Tripoli. Rebels have taken over the eastern half of the populous coast, including the strategic towns of Zawiyah and Misurata, not far from the capital and near important oil facilities.

After days of fighting, the rebels had also reportedly taken Sabratha, an important town near Tripoli known for its ancient ruins. But so far, they have been unable to take Surt, a coastal town on the main route to Tripoli that is a Gadhafi stronghold and traditional center of his tribe.

In Tripoli, home to nearly 2 million of Libya's roughly 6-1/2 million people, Gadhafi and his special militias have unleashed enough firepower that it may enable them to keep a firm grasp on the city for some time.

On Saturday, his plainclothes police and uniformed security forces appeared in control of most of the city's largely deserted streets. There were unconfirmed reports that he was following through with threats in a speech last week to distribute weapons to his supporters, raising vexing questions about just how the standoff might end.

Until Friday night, Gadhafi's government had imposed a complete ban on foreign journalists. It had shut down most Internet access, confiscated cell phone chips and camera memory cards from those leaving the border.

But he reversed himself Thursday when his son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi said Libya would welcome the foreign news media.

In a midnight news conference for journalists assembled in the luxurious Rixos Hotel, the younger Gadhafi acknowledged for the first time the extent of the rebellion, confirming reports that rebels had control of Zawiyah and Misurata.

But, contradicting rebel claims that their victory was at hand, the younger Gadhafi said the government was negotiating with the protesters and making great progress. (No protesters have acknowledged such talks.)

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