Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Thousands of people were fleeing Libya on Wednesday as forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi reportedly continued a crackdown on protesters in the capital. Rogue elements of the police and army aligned with the anti-government opposition appeared to be in firm control of parts of the east.
Libya's Quryna newspaper reported Wednesday that a military pilot and navigator bailed out and ditched their Soviet-era Su-22 fighter rather than carry out an order to bomb the opposition-held city of Benghazi.
The opposition reportedly seized control of Misurata, 125 miles east of the capital Tripoli, after days of fighting. Witnesses said people were honking their horns and raising flags representing the monarchy overthrown by Gadhafi more than 40 years ago.
Misurata would be the first major city in western Libya to fall to anti-government forces, which claim — with the help of defecting security forces — to have taken control of nearly the entire eastern half of Libya's 1,000-mile Mediterranean coast, including several oil-producing areas.
Faraj al-Misrati, a local doctor in Misurata, said six residents had been killed and 200 wounded since Jan. 18, when protesters attacked offices and buildings affiliated with Gadhafi's regime
Protesters also claimed to have taken over the eastern city of Tobruk, with people taking to the streets to vent their anger at the regime. Clashes broke out over the past two days in the town of Sabratha, west of the capital, where the army and militiamen were trying to put down protesters who overwhelmed security headquarters and government buildings, a news website close to the government reported.
Independent reporting was scarce in much of Libya, but new opposition videos posted on Facebook showed scores of anti-government protesters raising the flag from the pre-Gadhafi monarchy on a building in Zawiya, on the outskirts of the capital. Another showed protesters lining up cement blocks and setting tires ablaze to fortify positions on a square inside the capital.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported that in one town in eastern Libya, the streets were filled with "men in uniform, either police or army, but they have basically gone over to the other side."