Thu, Feb 24, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Pressure mounts on Muammar Qaddafi to surrender power

AFP, TOBRUK, LIBYA

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s regime has lost vast swathes of the country’s east to an insurrection, it emerged yesterday as pressure mounted on the strongman to step down amid growing evidence of a “bloodbath.”

As condemnation of the crackdown grew and foreigners fled the country, Qaddafi appeared to be increasingly isolated after reports that hundreds of civilians had been killed by his forces.

Opponents of Qaddafi appeared firmly in control of Libya’s coastal east, from the Egyptian border through to the cities of Tobruk and Benghazi, with government soldiers switching sides to join the uprising.

Soldiers in the east were declaring their support for the uprising, residents said, but the regime asserted it was still in control via a text message sent on the national mobile telephone network.

The streets of the capital, Tripoli, were mainly empty, barring a few Qaddafi backers, despite his nationally televised call a day before for a show of popular support.

Only Green Square — a Qaddafi stronghold since the revolt against rule began last Tuesday — pulsed with activity as pro-regime supporters began arriving.

Urging a prompt end to the “horrible bloodbath,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the eastern province of “Cyrenaica is no longer under the control of the Libyan government and there are outbreaks of violence across the country.”

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday urged Qaddafi to end the suppression by his forces of the uprising.

News of the call came after Qaddafi delivered a rambling speech on television, declaring he would die a martyr in Libya and threatening to purge opponents “house by house” and “inch by inch.”

Proclaiming the support of the people, Qaddafi ordered the army and police to crush the revolt.

“The Libyan people are with me,” he said.

“Capture the rats,” he said of anti-regime demonstrators.

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