Tripoli, Feb 22: Libyan forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi are fighting a bloody battle to keep him in power, with residents reporting gunfire in parts of the capital Tripoli and other cities, while other citizens, including the country's former ambassador to India, are saying that warplanes were used to "bomb" protesters, reportsAl Jazeera.
Nearly 300 people were reported killed in continuing violence in the capital and across the north African country as demonstrations enter their second week. Witnesses in Tripoli told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that fighter jets had bombed portions of the city in fresh attacks. They said that "mercenaries" were firing on civilians in the city. Residents of the Tajura neighbourhood, east of Tripoli, said that dead bodies are still lying on the streets from earlier violence. At least 61 people were killed in the capital on Monday, witnesses told Al Jazeeera. Protests in Libya, which Gaddafi has ruled for 41 years, began on February 14, but picked up momentum after a brutal government crackdown following a "Day of Rage" on February 17.
Demonstrators say they have now taken control of several important towns, including the city of Benghazi, which saw days of bloody clashes between protesters and government forces. There has been a heavy government crackdown on protests, however, and demonstrators at a huge anti-government march in the capital on Monday afternoon said they came under attack from fighter jets and security forces using live ammunition.
"What we are witnessing today is unimaginable. Warplanes and helicopters are indiscriminately bombing one area after another. There are many, many dead," Adel Mohamed Saleh said in a live broadcast. "Anyone who moves, even if they are in their car, they will hit you." Ali al-Essawi, who resigned as Libyan ambassador to India, also told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that fighter jets had been used by the government to bomb civilians.
He said live fire was being used against protesters, and that foreigners had been hired to fight on behalf of the government. The former ambassador called the violence "a massacre", and called on the UN to block Libyan airspace in order to "protect the people".The country's state broadcaster quoted Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the Libyan leader, and widely seen as his political heir, as saying that armed forces had "bombarded arms depots situated far from populated areas". He denied that air strikes had taken place in Tripoli and Benghazi.
The government says that it is battling "dens of terrorists".During Monday's protests, gunfire was heard across the capital, with protesters seen attacking police stations and government buildings, including the offices of the state broadcaster. Witnesses told the AFP news agency that there had been a "massacre" in Tajura district, with gunmen seen firing "indiscriminately".
In Fashlum district, helicopters were seen landing with what witnesses described as "mercenaries" disembarking and attacking those on the street. Mohammed Abdul-Malek, a London-based opposition activist who has been in touch with residents, said that snipers have taken positions on roofs in an apparent bid to stop people joining the protests. Several witnesses who spoke to the Associated Press news agency said that pro-Gaddafi gunmen were firing from moving cars at both people and buildings.Benghazi, Libya's second city which had been the focal point of violence in recent days, has now been taken over by anti-government protesters, after military units deserted their posts and joined the demonstrators.
According to the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR), protesters are also in control of Sirte, Tobruk in the east, as well as Misrata, Khoms, Tarhounah, Zenten, Al-Zawiya and Zouara. On Sunday, the US-based rights group Human Rights Watch said that at least 233 people were killed in the violence. Added to that are at least 61 people who died on Monday, which brings the toll since violence began on February 17 to at least 294.