Renewed Clashes Hit Libya Capital

Security forces and protesters have clashed in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, for a second night, after the government announced a new crackdown. Witnesses say warplanes have fired on protesters in the city. To the west of Tripoli, sources say the army is fighting forces loyal to ruler Moammar Muammar Gadhafi, who appears to be struggling to hold on to power. Libya’s deputy envoy to the UN has called on Moammar Gadhafi to step down, and accused his government of genocide.

The diplomat, Ibrahim Dabbashi said that if Moammar Gadhafi did not relinquish power, “the Libyan people will get rid of him.” (BBC) “It’s a matter of time,” he told CNN. “I don’t know how long it will last, but it will be soon.” (CNN) “Whenever people are getting to the streets, whenever they are demonstrating peacefully, the army and militias are shooting at them,” he told CNN on Monday. But Gadhafi “cannot survive” this uprising, Dabbashi said.

Moammar. Gadhafi has now lost the support of almost every section of Libyan society, says the BBC’s Jon Leyne from neighbouring Egypt. Reports from several cities across Tripoli suggested much of the country was slipping from Moammar Gadhafi’s grip.

Foreign journalists work under tight restriction in Libya, and much of the information coming from the country is impossible to verify. But the regime has accepted that eastern cities such as al-Bayda and Benghazi – traditional pockets of residence to the government – are now under the control of the opposition.

The unrest had not touched Tripoli until Sunday, when hundreds of protesters flooded the streets, only to be suppressed by security forces.

On Monday, state TV reported a renewed operation had begun against opposition elements. “Security forces have started to storm into the dens of terror and sabotage, spurred by the hatred  of Libya,” the Libyan TV channel reported. (BBC) An eyewitness in Tripoli told the BBC he could see people being shot down by aircraft. Another eyewitness in the capital said the suburbs of Fashioom and Zawiyat al-Dahmani had been cordoned off by security forces. Protesters were out on the streets, and flames and smoke could be seen rising from the areas, the witness said.

“It was an obscene amount of gunfire,” a witness told The New York Times. “They were strafing these people. People were running in every direction.” The police stood by and watched, the witness said, as the militiamen, still shooting, chased after the protesters. (New York Times)

“The shooting is not designed to disperse the protesters,” said one resident, who wanted to be identified only as Waleed, fearing for his security. “It is meant to kill them… This is not Ben Ali or Mubarak,” he added, referring to the deposed leaders of Tunisia and Egypt – Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. “This man has no sense of humanity.” (New York Times)

Libyan’s from other cities – Bengazhi and Misrata – were reported to be heading to Tripoli to join the battle against the government forces, Said Mansour O. El-Kikhia, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Texas at Austin, who had talked to people inside the country. “There are dead on the streets, you cannot pick them up,” he said by email. “The army is just shooting at everybody. That has not deterred people from continuing.” (New York Times)

Fashioom is one of Tripoli’s poorest areas, and a BBC correspondent in the city says there are fears that many people may have died in the clashes. Witnesses estimated more than 50 people had been killed in Tripoli since Sunday.

Before the unrest spread to the capital, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch estimated 233 people had been killed, but other campaign groups said the figure was much higher.

Moammar Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, later told state media that there had been bombing raids near Tripoli and Benghazi, but said they had targeted ammunition stores and no civilians were hit. In an earlier TV address, Saif al-Islam warned that the protests could lead to civil war, and vowed that the regime would “fight to the last bullet.” (BBC) “We have a very dangerous decision to make,” said al-Islam. “We are all the same, we all have weapons, we are all Libyans, and this is our country. our homeland.” (CNN)

Gadhafi made a brief 40-second television appearance early Tuesday to announce he was still in charge, denying reports that he had fled the country in the face of the spreading revolt. Speaking to a state television reporter in front of his Tripoli home, Gadhafi said he wanted to show people “that I am in Tripoli, not in Venezuela. Don’t believe those dogs in the media.” (CNN)

Amid turmoil on the streets, senior officials have begun to desert the regime. Justice Minister Mustapha Abdul Jalil quit the government because of the “excessive use of violence,” the privately owned Quryna newspaper reported. (BBC) Libya’s envoy to the Arab League, Abdel Moneim al-Honi, announced he was “joining the revolution.” (BBC) Libya’s deputy ambassador to the U.N. called the crackdown “genocide,” adding, “The mass killing has reached a stage where no one can stay silent about it.” (CNN) And several diplomatic missions reportedly said they were pledging allegiance to the people of Libya rather than the Gadhafi government.

U.S. ambassador Ali Aujali said he could no longer represent a government that killed its own people. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said the U.S. joined the international community in “strongly condemning the violence in Libya… Now is the time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed,” she added. (BBC) “The government of Libya has a responsibility to respect the universal rights of the people, including the right to free expression and assembly,” Clinton’s statement said. (CNN)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “outraged” at reports that the Libyan authorities had been firing at protesters from military aircraft, and warned that such action would constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law, a spokesperson said. “He once again calls for an immediate end to the violence.” (BBC) Ki-Moon said he had urged Moammar Gadhafi in a 40-minute phone call to halt the escalating violence. EU foreign ministers released a statement condemning the “ongoing repression against demonstrators,” and said they deplored the violence and death of civilians. (BBC)

Some European ministers have voiced concern that there could be a wave of illegal immigration, after Libya threatened to break co-operation on controlling the flow of Tunisians to Italy. Meanwhile, Maltese officials say two Libyan fighter jets have landed there after the pilots asked for asylum because they were ordered to bomb civilians.

The violence has helped push up oil prices to their highest levels since the global financial crisis of 2008. International firms including BP, one of the world’s largest oil companies, are preparing to pull their staff out of Libya.

Canadian companies are keeping a watchful eye on the unfolding chaos. There are reports that some employees are being escorted out of the country for their own safety. Oil and gas titan Suncor Energy Inc. and engineering firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. are two of the largest Canadian-based companies with operations in the region. “Some work on certain projects is temporarily suspended,” a spokesman for SNC-Lavalin said. “All [projects] remain under supervision, and we will continue to monitor the situation to determine the next steps. The health and safety of our employees, as always, remains our primary concern,” the company said. (CBC) SNC-Lavalin operates numerous infrastructure projects in the country, including airports and water facilities.

CBC News has also learned that Winnipeg native Elizabeth Atkinson, a geophysicist for Suncor stationed in Tripoli, has been removed from her work site along with her Moammarleagues for safety reasons. “Things have changed quite a bit,” she told her family in a voicemail message. “Petro-Canada has decided a few hours ago that they’re evacuating us.” Petro-Canada was merged with Suncor in a $43-billion deal in March 2009. “We are ensconced in an ex-pat compound. We are no longer living out in the community,” Atkinson said. (CBC)

“In the interest of the safety and security of our people, we do not provide details or status commentary on contingency plans,” Calgary-based Suncor spokesman Brad Bellows said. “Suncor has contingency plans to ensure the safety of our staff in all countries and regions in which we operate. This obviously includes Libya, where we are [monitoring] and responding to events.” (CBC)

Other foreign firms have already started an exodus. Anglo-Dutch energy titan Shell PLC is in the process of evacuating several dozen employees from its lone exploratory gas drilling site in the country. Multinational rival BP said it is “very likely” to do the same thing in the coming days.

Libya is a major player in the energy industry. With 44 billion barrels of proven or provable reserves, it is Africa’s largest oil producer. The country earns more than $46 billion a year from oil, which makes up 95% of Libyan exports.

Crude oil prices were sharply higher on Monday due to the volatility. European benchmark Brent crude hit a three-year high of $105.28 U.S. a barrel, up $2.70 on the day. The comparable North American benchmark, the March light, sweet crude contract, was as much as $5.10 U.S. higher to $91.30 before retreating.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said there are an estimated 500 Canadians in Libya and about 350 have registered with the Canadian Embassy in Tripoli. He said about 50 were working for Canadian energy firms. Cannon said there are no immediate plans for a government evacuation of Canadians from the country.

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