Gaddafi grip weakens as forces take on protesters

Feb. 22: Libya appeared to slip further from the grip of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi on Tuesday, as Opposition forces in eastern Libya moved to consolidate control of the region, arming themselves with weapons taken from security warehouses, and fighting continued in Tripoli, witnesses said.

In Tripoli, the capital, the government was striking back at protesters challenging Colonel Gaddafi’s 40-year rule. Security forces and militiamen backed by helicopters and warplanes besieged parts of the city overnight, according to witnesses and news reports from Tripoli.

Fighting was heavy at times overnight, witnesses said, and the streets were thick with special forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi fighting alongside mercenaries. Roving the streets in trucks, they shot freely as planes dropped what witnesses described as “small bombs” and helicopters fired on protesters.

Hundreds of Gaddafi supporters took over the central Green Square in the capital after truckloads of militiamen arrived and opened fire on protesters, scattering them. Residents said they now feared to leave their houses. “It was an obscene amount of gunfire,” said one witness. “They were strafing these people. People were running in every direction.”

Mr Gaddafi, whose whereabouts have been unknown, appeared for roughly 30 seconds on state television at 2 am on Tuesday to signal his defiance and deny rumours he had left the country. “I want to show that I’m in Tripoli and not in Venezuela,” he said, holding a large white umbrella while getting into a vehicle.

“I wanted to say something to the youths at Green Square and stay up late with them but it started raining,” he said, referring to his supporters. “Thank God, it’s a good thing.” With the Internet largely blocked, telephone service interrupted, and access to international journalists constrained, information remained limited.

By arrangement with the New York Times

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