Cairo: Libya’s embattled leader Muammar Gaddafi today scrambled hard to stick to power as anti-regime protesters gained control of several eastern cities and the revolt moved closer to the capital Tripoli with many army officers defecting to join the uprising.
The town of Zuara, 120 km west of the capital Tripoli, has reportedly become the latest to fall to the opponents of 68-year-old Gaddafi. There were no police or soldiers left in Zuara, BBC quoted witnesses crossing out of Libya as saying.
In the eastern city of Benghazi, residents had been queuing to be issued guns looted from the army and police in order to join what they called the battle for Tripoli, it said.
However, the regime continued to unleash a crackdown in the capital city where, according to witnesses, ‘militias´ roamed around the streets to target protesters.
Some said tanks were deployed in the suburbs while Tripoli was heavily guarded by pro-Gaddafi forces.
Sending a stern warning to the Libyan leader, US President Barack Obama indicated that strong unilateral and multilateral measures in the form of sanctions were being deliberated.
He described the suffering and bloodshed in Libya as “outrageous” and “unacceptable” and asked the world to speak in one voice against violence by the Gaddafi regime in his first remarks to the press over the crisis.
As rebellion inched closer to Tripoli and defections of military officers mounted, Gaddafi called on thousands of “mercenaries and irregular security forces” to defend his stronghold, in what residents were quoted as saying was a desperate and dangerous turn in more than a week-old revolt.
After the fall of cities like Misurata to rebels on Wednesday, there were reports that at least half of the nation’s coast to the east, up to the port of Ra’s Lanuf, appeared to have fallen to opposition forces.
Other towns that appeared to be no longer under Gaddafi’s control included Derna and Bayda, Al-Jazeera said.
Reports from the eastern coastal city of Tobruk, which is 140km from the Egyptian border, said that a major chunk of the army in the east had switched sides in the revolt and people were already celebrating freedom from Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.
Major-General Suleiman Mahmoud, the commander of the armed forces in Tobruk, told Al-Jazeera that the troops led by him had switched loyalties.
“We are on the side of the people,” he said. “I was with him (Gaddafi) in the past but the situation has changed - he’s a tyrant.”