Libya: civil war breaks out as Gaddafi mounts rearguard fight
Forces loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi made good on threats to trigger a civil war in Libya on Wednesday night, by taking up positions across the capital, Tripoli and launching a rearguard fight against rebels in major cities.Pictures from Benghazi show 'yellow hat' mercenaries destroying property By Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent9:17PM GMT 23 Feb 2011
Residents of parts of the capital were trapped in their homes as "thousands" of soldiers patrolled the streets accompanied by African mercenaries.
Tanks took up positions around public buildings including government offices, while sandbag defences were also being built.
"We will fight until death," a pro-Gaddafi soldier in his early 20s said outside a military compound close to Tripoli's Green Square, which had been cleared of demonstrators by yesterday morning.
"The country needs stability at a time like this, and this is what we are providing. The people are on our side."
Residents said bodies were still piling up in hospitals from the shootings of the previous two days.
"Anywhere we go there is danger," said one woman, a 28-year-old mother of four who asked not to be named. "All we want is food and fresh water for our children but it is impossible to find. Security is the only concern of the authorities."
As ministers, generals and diplomats around the world defected, government spokesmen loyal to Col Gaddafi were trying to rally people to his side.
Col Gaddafi signalled a fightback in a speech on Tuesday, when he called on supporters to "chase away the rats and terrorists" who he said were plunging the country into civil war.
Ahmed al-Zuwi, secretary general of the People's Committees, the leading authorities, said the government was in control.
He blamed the unrest on the Gulf state of Qatar, which he said had ordered al-Jazeera, the television station owned by its royal family, to "spread lies" as part of a trade dispute.
General Jameel al-Kadiki, deputy commander of the air force, denied that his jets had bombed civilians but said they had been forced to prevent opponents "meddling" with military supplies and "using them against the Libyan people".
Later, the deputy foreign minister, Khaled Khaim, summoned EU ambassadors to claim that al-Qaeda had set up a base in the city of Darnah, under rebel control for several days. The cell was headed by a former inmate of Guantanamo Bay, he said.
But the area under government control was shrinking. Most of the east is now held by protesters and is relatively peaceful, though there were reports of dozens of deaths in shootings in al-Bayda, east of Benghazi, on Tuesday evening.
The numbers who have died in the fighting was not certain. Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister, said reports of 1,000 dead were "credible".
Maj Gen Suleiman Mahmoud al-Obeidi, a former eastern army commander, was with troops in Tobruk. Misrata, a major coastal city to the east of Tripoli, and Zawiya to the west, were also said to be under rebel control, with video footage showing a Gaddafi poster being thrown down in the former.
But opposition groups said the Khamis Brigade, loyal to and named after Col Gaddafi's youngest son, was now moving against these towns.
Soliman Albrassi, a resident of Misrata, said loyalist forces were attacking the television station there.
"Gaddafi will burn all cities under his control," he said. "We will not let escape with all of this."
Loyalist forces were also fighting back in the city of Sabratha, famed for its Roman ruins, after rebels burned government buildings and police stations.
Col Gaddafi and his sons seemed to be working on a plan to regroup in Tripoli and the province of Sirte, his birthplace, which is also assumed to remain loyal, before using his forces to fight back.
Two crew of a Sukhoi-22 ground attack jet ejected and allowed their plane to crash after refusing orders to bomb Benghazi, the eastern city where the revolution started.
One bank worker in Benghazi, who asked not to be named, said: "All the people in Benghazi are ready to fight against anyone who is sent from Gaddafi's side. There is no way back for him."
But Mohammed Ali Abdullah, deputy leader of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, a leading exile group, said he was concerned that the parts of the army that had defected had shown no sign of willingness themselves to take the revolution on.
"We aren't seeing the army's different brigades trying to reinforce themselves to take on the Khamis Brigade and the mercenaries," he said.
"There has been a lot of disappointment with the role of the army that has defected - it has defected and then sat down to watch."X Share & bookmarkDelicious Facebook Google Messenger RedditTwitterDigg Fark LinkedIn Google Buzz StumbleUponY! BuzzWhat are these?Tweethttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8344034/Libya-civil-war-breaks-out-as-Gaddafi-mounts-rearguard-fight.htmlTelegraph
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