Libya: rebels tighten circle around Tripoli; Western intervention next?
Fighting in Libya spread to western towns near Tripoli Feb. 25, as cities in the east organized interim governments, raising the old flag from before Moammar Qaddafi came to power in 1969. Dueling rallies were held in Benghazi, where thousands celebrated their liberation from Qaddafi's regime, and in Tripoli, where the dictator himself appeared at the capital's Green Square. Qaddafi called on his partisans to "defend Libya," pledging, "If needs be, we will open all the arsenals." Before the Tripoli pro-regime rally, security forces fired on protesters, leaving several dead. Oblivious to the deadly repression that preceded his address, the strongman appealed to Libya's youth to "dance and sing, Moammar Qaddafi is with you."
In the oil refinery town of az-Zawiyah, west of Tripoli, 23 were killed and 44 wounded on Feb. 24. (Original reports had put the death toll in the town at four.) Heavy fighting was also reported in Libya's third city Misrata, to the east of capital.
There were further signs of the regime's collapse Feb. 25. The entire Libyan UN delegation in Geneva defected to the opposition. In Paris, protesters calling themselves the "children of the revolution" occupied the Libyan embassy and hoisted the old national flag, as the ambassador resigned.
Western intervention in the works?
France and Britain have proposed the UN Security Council pass a sanctions resolution including a total arms embargo against Libya. The UN World Food Program warned Libya's food distribution system was "at risk of collapsing," with imports having largely come to a halt. UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay said the situation is "escalating alarmingly with reported mass killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of protesters."
US officials said no option has been ruled out, but State Department spokesman Philip Crowley stressed the extreme sensitivity of the situation. "Whatever steps that we do take, we want them to be effective. And we certainly don't want to take any actions that put either our citizens or the citizens of other countries at risk," he said.
Italy is preparing a "military operation" to rescue some nationals trapped in the southeast whose food supplies have run out, Defense Minister Ignazio La Russia said. French President Nicolas Sarkozy became the first Western leader to openly call for Qaddafi's ouster. (AFP, Middle East Online, NPR, Feb. 25)
Italy has also broached intervention in neighboring Tunisia.