Tue February 22, 2011

Rebels Claim To Control Eastern Libya Amid Turmoil

Rebels in Libya said Tuesday they have wrested control of the country's east from leader Moammar Gadhafi after a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters that brought condemnation from the regime's own diplomats abroad. Several nations were organizing evacuations of their citizens as the chaos spread in the North African nation.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, who was able to cross into Libya from Egypt, said the Libyan side of the border post was controlled by armed men who described themselves as "free Libyan troops." She said there were no signs of police or any Libyan authorities.

"They say they have liberated all of eastern Libya," she said via satellite phone. "They are very anxious to speak to the media. They say they have been waiting to tell their story."

Garcia-Navarro described "people stuffing possessions into burlap sacks" as they readied to cross the border into Egypt.

Libya's unrest continued as protesters remained active in Bahrain, where the king ordered the release of some political prisoners. Thousands of anti-government protesters also rallied in Yemen. Meanwhile, the Arab League and United Nations were discussing Libya in emergency sessions.

About 5,000 Egyptians have returned home from Libya by land and about 10,000 more were preparing to cross the Libya-Egypt border, an Egyptian security official said. Egypt says it will also send six commercial and two military planes to repatriate more citizens.

Earlier, reporting from the Egyptian side of the border, Garcia-Navarro said: "It seems to be almost a secession. They are declaring themselves to be - as the young men fleeing across the border told me - 'Free Libya.'"

Ambassadors Resign

Meanwhile, Libya's ambassadors to India, Bangladesh and Indonesia resigned in protest over the crackdown that Human Rights Watch said had killed at least 233 people, mainly in the capital, Tripoli and the eastern Benghazi. Ambassador to the U.S., Ali Aujali, joined nearly the entire diplomatic office representing Tripoli at the United Nations in urging Gadhafi to step down after more than four decades in power.

Aujali told NPR that he had decided to resign after the Gadhafi's forces used "all kinds of weapons to kill" the demonstrators.

"I can't understand it and I can't take it," he said.

He said the United States and other western governments should "raise their voice ... about what is happening in Lbya."

"They have to move quickly. There is no time to waste," he said.

Nearly all Libyan diplomats at the United Nations backed deputy ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi's pleas to Gadhafi to step down and for the international community to intervene.

The U.N. spokesperson's office said late Monday that the Security Council had scheduled consultations on the situation in Libya for Tuesday morning. Earlier, Dabbashi had called for an urgent meeting of the council to take action to stop the bloodshed.

He urged the international community to impose a no-fly zone "on the cities of Libya so no mercenaries, no supplies of arms will arrive to the regime."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Beverly Hills, CA that he had spoken to Gadhafi earlier Monday for 40 minutes and "forcefully urged him to stop violence against demonstrators and again strongly underlined the importance of respecting the human rights of those demonstrators."

Ban expressed outrage at what he described as "very disturbing and shocking scenes" of Libyan authorities firing at demonstrators from warplanes and helicopters.

"This is unacceptable. This must stop immediately. This is a serious violation of international humanitarian law," he said.

In India, Libyan Ambassador Ali al-Essawi told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he had resigned his post, effective Tuesday.

"We have to stop the bloodshed. It's the responsibility of the international community to stop the bloodshed," he said.

Libya's ambassador to Indonesia was quoted in the English-language Jakarta Post as saying he had also stepped down from his post.

"Soldiers are killing unarmed civilians mercilessly, using heavy weaponry, fighter jets and mercenaries against its own people. It is not acceptable," Salaheddin M. El Bishari said.

"I have enough of it. I don't tolerate it any more," he said.

Some 70 human rights groups from around the world have also called for immediate international action a "to halt the mass atrocities" against the Libyan people.

Arab States Condemn Violence

Other Arab governments were expected to join Qatar in condemning the violence, as terrified Libyans called into satellite TV channels to describe the violence.

The diplomatic revolt and the hasty evacuations came as sketchy reports from elsewhere in the country paint a picture of a regime on the brink of collapse.

Gadhafi appeared for less than a minute on Libyan state television early Tuesday, apparently to show he is still in control. He was wearing a fur hat and struggling with an umbrella as he assured his audience that he had not fled the country.

"I am not going to leave this land, I will die here as a martyr,'' he said.

State TV said Gadhafi was to address a crowd of dozens of his supporters later Tuesday in Tripoli's main Green Square.

Governments were scrambling to send planes and ships to bring their citizens home from strife-torn Libya. At least two airlines, British Airways and Emirates — the Middle East's largest — said they were canceling flights to the capital, Tripoli.

More than 200 Turkish companies are involved in construction projects worth more than $15 billion in Libya, State Minister Zafer Caglayan, who oversees foreign trade, said Monday. Some of the construction sites reportedly came under attack by protesters but no Turkish citizens have been harmed so far, authorities said.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said 10 other countries have also asked for help from Turkey to evacuate their citizens. He did not identify the countries. He said Turkey was also evaluating options to evacuate its citizens through Tunisia or Egypt.

The Anatolia news agency said two more ships would set sail Tuesday and Wednesday.

Italy, the Netherlands and Russia were all making arrangements for air transport of their citizens out of Libya.

Some 70 human rights groups from around the world have also called for immediate international action a "to halt the mass atrocities" against the Libyan people.

Jordan joined Qatar in condemning the violence, as their citizens got a glimpse of the horror in Libya via satellite TV channels that carried reports phoned in from inside the country.

The diplomatic revolt and the hasty evacuations came as sketchy reports from elsewhere in the country paint a picture of a regime on the brink of collapse.

More Protests In Bahrain

In Bahrain, the scene of another crackdown against anti-government protesters last week, the king conceded to opposition demands and ordered the release of some political prisoners on Tuesday.

The royal decree covers several Shiite activists accused of plotting against the state.

While a government spokeswoman said it was inclear how many prisoners will be freed, she said those released would include some of the 25 Shiite activists on trial for allegedly plotting against the country's Sunni leadership.

The Persian Gulf country has seen protesters keep up the pressure despite violence that killed several last week. On Monday, activists staged another massive pro-government rally.

Another Rally In Yemen

In Yemen, where unrest has also reportedly resulted in a number of deaths in recent days, about 5,000 anti-government protesters rallied on Tuesday in a town in the country's east, calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In the capital of Sanaa, thousands rallied at a university campus while hundreds continued to camp out in a nearby square.

Demonstrators set up checkpoints around the square and searched those trying to enter.

Police stood by Tuesday as demonstrators marched in the eastern town of al-Shiher, chanting, "Down, down with Saleh."

After three weeks of protest, Saleh still insists he will not step down before the end of his term in 2013. He has, however, pledged security forces will not fire on protesters. Medical officials have said 11 people have been killed in protests this month.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in eastern Libya, Jason Beaubien and JJ Sutherland in Cairo, Deborah Amos in Doha and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.