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A picture of Moammar Gadhafi is burned in Benghazi, March 2 , 2011
Libyan rebels demand the ouster of Moammar GadhafiImage: AP

Popular protest

March 4, 2011

Libyan warplanes have continued to bomb rebel positions as Western nations mull military options. After Friday prayers the opposition renewed their protests against Moammar Gadhafi.


Protesters began marching from mosques in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Friday, calling for Moammar Gadhafi's ouster. More than 1,000 protesters streamed out of the Murad Agha mosque in the city's Tajoura district, chanting "the people want to bring the regime down."

Forces loyal to Gadhafi fired tear gas at protesters and tried to break up the crowd. While his grip on much of the country has slipped, Gadhafi has remained firmly in control of the capital.

Before the marches, pro-Gadhafi forces set up checkpoints in the neighborhood. Last week, similar protests were met by a brutal crackdown, when militiamen opened fire on demonstrators moments after they began their marches.

In another part of the country, Libyan rebels vowing "victory or death" advanced towards the major oil terminal of Ras Lanuf on Friday, calling for foreign air strikes to set up a "no-fly" zone after three days of attacks by Moammar Gadhafi's warplanes.

For the third day in a row, the Libyan opposition has come under air attack by government forces loyal to Gadhafi.

Earlier on Friday, a government warplane dropped bombs just beyond the walls of a military base held by the opposition in the eastern town of Ajdabiyah but did not hit it, according to rebel volunteers.

Libyan rebels prepare their defenses against attacks by Gadhafi forces
Libyan rebels prepare their defenses against attacks by Gadhafi forcesImage: dapd

The air attacks have failed to stop the rebels from using a key coast road to push their front line west of Brega, an oil terminal town 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of the capital, Tripoli. Rebels said they had driven troops loyal to Gadhafi back to Ras Lanuf, the site of another major oil terminal 600 kilometers from Tripoli.

The patchwork Libyan opposition now controls swathes of eastern and western Libya including the city of Benghazi and some oil installations.

Meanwhile, amid growing international concerns about dwindling food and medical supplies in some rebel-held areas, diplomatic efforts are accelerating to end a conflict that the West fears could stir a mass refugee exodus across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Libyan rebels have been calling for Western airstrikes to set up a no-fly zone to prevent bombing raids by Gadhafi loyalists.

Obama increases pressure

US President Barack Obama has for the first time called in public for Gadhafi to leave Libya, although he made the comments in a written statement from the White House.

"Moammar Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to lead and he must leave," Obama said on Thursday.

Obama warned officials close to Gadhafi that their actions are being monitored and attacks on civilians will not be tolerated by the international community.

"They should know history is moving against Colonel Gadhafi," Obama said. "Their support for him and their willingness to carry out orders that direct violence against citizens is something that, ultimately, they will be held accountable for."

He added that he was concerned a bloody stalemate could develop between Gadhafi and rebel forces but gave no indication that the US was willing to intervene militarily.

Refugee camp for people fleeing from unrest in Libya, at the Tunisia-Libyan border, March 3, 2011
The exodus of displaced people from Libya continuesImage: dapd

Mixed message from Europeans

On Thursday, French and British foreign ministers told Gadhafi that they would press for the imposition of a no-fly zone if attacks against his country's citizens continued.

But Germany is against any foreign military intervention in Libya, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Thursday.

"We do not participate, and we do not share a discussion of military intervention, because we think this would be very counterproductive," Westerwelle said at a meeting of central European foreign ministers in Slovakia.

"We want to see the [Gadhafi] family isolated," he added.

Chavez plan

In The Hague, prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have said that Gadhafi and key aides would face investigation over alleged crimes against humanity.

Gadhafi ally President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has proposed an international mediation mission to pull Libya from what Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said was the "verge of civil war".

But the Chavez proposal got short shrift from the West, and Libyan rebels in their eastern fiefdom have said that Gadhafi was free to flee to Venezuela if he so chooses.

Author: Michael Knigge (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)
Editor: Susan Houlton

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