Page 2 of 3   <       >

New clashes reported in Tripoli; U.S. citizens to evacuate

Motivated by recent shows of political strength by neighbors in Egypt, demonstrators in the Middle East and North Africa are taking to the streets of many cities to rally for change.

Still, the consistent picture was of a country in disarray, with major oil regions now under opposition control, seaports closed, major tribes preparing for armed conflict, and intense clashes taking place in the capital, Tripoli. Residents for a second day reported seeing African troops they described as mercenaries and said they were killing civilians and firing guns into the air.

Reports of the number of dead range as high as 500 over several days of clashes, many of them in and around the coastal city of Benghazi, in eastern Libya, whose powerful tribal leaders have long bridled under Gaddafi's rule. The estimates have come from opposition groups and from human rights organizations that say they are based on reports from doctors and hospitals inside Libya.

Nations, including the United States, were working to evacuate their embassy workers and others from the country. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli said a ferry chartered by the U.S. government was anchored near the harbor at the As-shahab Port in central Tripoli as of 11:15 a.m. local time (4:15 a.m. in Washington), and was expected to leave for Malta by 3 p.m.

At the Libyan Embassy in Sweden, diplomats allowed protesters to raise the flag of the deposed Libyan monarchy for the first time since Gaddafi took power in 1969.

Gaddafi delivered his address wearing a traditional brown turban and cloak, along with his trademark sunglasses. He seemed intent on convincing Libyans and the world that he remained in control of the country, even as defections within his regime continued to build.

Branding the opposition as "rats," Gaddafi urged his supporters to "chase them" and hand them over to the security forces.

"I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired," he said. "When I do, everything will burn." He suggested that protesters were under the influence of "hallucinogenic pills."

As the speech aired, Libyan national television showed images of hundreds of Gaddafi supporters in the capital's central Green Square, waving flags. Residents said the pro-government forces had taken over the square from anti-government demonstrators late Monday, after Gaddafi's militias opened fire.

It was not possible to verify whether the demonstrations were staged or the extent of support for Gaddafi on the streets.

Among defectors from within Gaddafi's regime, the most senior to break away was the interior minister, Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi, who was reported by al-Jazeera television to have urged the Libyan army on Tuesday to join the people and their "legitimate demands."

Meanwhile, Libya's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam, showed up to represent his government at a U.N. Security Council session called to discuss the unrest. Shalgam's appearance came a day after his deputy, Ibrahim Dabbashi, publicly turned against Gaddafi.

The turmoil that has roiled the Middle East continued to reach across the region Tuesday. In Yemen, two anti-government protesters were killed in clashes with supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh near Sanaa University, while tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied in the Bahraini capital, Manama, in protest of that country's monarchy.

<       2        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company