Protesters killed in Libya, Yemen as wave of Arab unrest continues
Friday, March 4, 2011; 9:18 PM
BENGHAZI, LIBYA - Forces loyal to Moammar Gaddafi attacked a rebel-held city west of the capital Friday, while anti-government fighters claimed to have captured a key oil terminal in eastern Libya.
Gaddafi loyalists armed with tanks and heavy machine guns and reportedly led by his son, Khamis Gaddafi, launched an offensive against Zawiyah, about 27 miles west of Tripoli, around midday, rebels said. Dozens of casualties were reported, and cellphone video clips showed people falling to the ground in the city's main square amid the sound of gunshots.
But the opposition was said to have kept control of the city, as the wave of protests sweeping the Arab world continued in Libya and in Yemen, Jordan and Bahrain.
Rebels said they captured the Ras Lanuf oil terminal, 77 miles west of the opposition-held port of Brega in eastern Libya, after heavy fighting with pro-Gaddafi forces. Libya's deputy foreign minister later claimed that Ras Lanuf was still in the government's hands and that "everything is calm" there, news agencies reported.
There were conflicting reports as well about an explosion Friday at a munitions depot near Benghazi, the epicenter of the resistance to Gaddafi. At least 16 people were reported killed in the blast, whose cause was not immediately clear. An initial report blamed bombing by Libyan warplanes. Opposition spokesman Jalal el-Gallal later said it was unclear whether a bomb was planted at the depot or whether something inside the building detonated, possibly when people went inside to collect weapons.
"I don't know if it was sabotage or an accident waiting to happen," Gallal said.
Details were also sketchy about the fighting in Zawiyah, but a doctor there said at least 10 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in fierce clashes throughout the afternoon. A senior rebel leader was reported to be among the dead.
Forces loyal to Gaddafi entered Zawiyah, Libya's fourth-largest city and site of a major oil refinery, from several directions, using tanks, SUVs and trucks armed with heavy machine guns, witnesses said.
News services reported as many as 50 people dead in the fighting, but those reports could not be independently confirmed. One rebel fighter said Gaddafi loyalists shot at people in front of Zawiyah's hospital, blocking the injured from getting treatment.
Pro-Gaddafi forces reached the gates of the city, climbing upon the tallest buildings just outside the edge of town and firing indiscriminately on crowds, said Mohamed Magid, an opposition spokesman. He denied government claims that it had retaken the city, saying: "That is [a] lie. We are still in the square. Zawiyah has not fallen."
In eastern Libya, rebels attacked pro-Gaddafi forces on the outskirts of Ras Lanuf in an attempt to capture the oil terminal on the Mediterranean. Gaddafi's forces fought back with fighter jets and ground troops, killing at least four rebels, according to Mohammed Sultan, a rebel fighter.
Just after dark on Friday, rebels claimed they had taken Ras Lanuf and said they were continuing to push westward. They said they hoped to be in Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown and a stronghold of his loyalists, within two days.