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Military helicopters reportedly fire on protesters in Libya

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The son of longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi warned in a nationally televised address early on Monday that continued anti-government protests might lead to a civil war that could send the country's oil wells up in flames. (Feb. 20)

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Ali al-Essawi, Libya's ambassador to India, resigned from his post Monday and called for Gaddafi to step down. He accused the regime of deploying foreign mercenaries against the protesters.

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Over the weekend, security forces in Benghazi opened fire on mourners attending funeral marches for 84 protesters killed the day before, their harshest response yet to the recent round of demonstrations. They also swiftly clamped down on smaller uprisings that spread to the outskirts of Tripoli, where protesters seized military bases and weapons.

Unrest across the region

As fresh protests erupted across the Middle East and North Africa over the weekend, embattled leaders in the region struggled to contain their discontented masses, deploying a wide variety of tactics - from offers of dialogue to brutal crackdowns - to suppress the pro-democracy forces unleashed by the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

Protests also broke out Sunday in Morocco and Tunisia, posing new challenges to their rulers, while authorities in Iran and Bahrain continued to confront calls for reform.

By late Sunday, the number of those killed in the uprising across Libya had soared to at least 233, most of them in Benghazi, according to Human Rights Watch. Other news reports placed the death toll at 200 or much higher.

U.S. and European Union officials on Sunday condemned Libya's crackdown and called for an end to the violence. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States is "gravely concerned" and has received "multiple credible reports that hundreds of people have been killed and injured." Many of the victims had been killed with machine guns, witnesses said.

The scope of the turmoil in Libya is impossible to verify. Authorities have denied access to foreign journalists and have periodically cut off the Internet and phone lines. But the unfolding situation in Libya could mark the most brutal attempt to suppress the anti-government protests sweeping across the Arab world.

Residents and activists describe a volatile landscape that is increasingly isolated from the world and becoming bloodier and more chaotic by the day. The protesters seek the ouster of Gaddafi, who has ruled for more than four decades.

Gaddafi's son appeared on state television early Monday, saying his father is in the country and backed by the army. "We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet," Seif al-Islam Gaddafi said, warning that if the unrest continues, the country could become engulfed in civil war and Libya's oil wealth "will be burned."

Gaddafi's regime appeared to suffer its first defection Sunday when the country's representative to the Arab League said he had resigned his position, angry about the government's harsh tactics in Benghazi.

"Things are getting progressively worse in western Libya," said one Tripoli resident who spoke via messaging on Skype. "Internet is extremely slow and Web browsing is turned off most of the time. We can't make international calls anymore." The resident added that text messaging "doesn't seem to work either."

EU officials said they will prepare for the possible evacuation of European citizens from Libya, the Associated Press reported Monday. BP also is making evacuation plans for its employees "in the next couple days," spokesman David Nicholas told the AP.


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