U.S. keeping its options open

International pressure on Moammar Gadhafi to end his crackdown on opponents escalated Monday as his loyalists closed in on rebel-held cities nearest the capital. The U.S. moved naval and air forces closer to Libya and said all options were open, including the use of warplanes to patrol the North African nation’s skies and protect citizens threatened by their leader.

TRIPOLI, Libya — International pressure on Moammar Gadhafi to end his crackdown on opponents escalated Monday as his loyalists closed in on rebel-held cities nearest the capital. The U.S. moved naval and air forces closer to Libya and said all options were open, including the use of warplanes to patrol the North African nation’s skies and protect citizens threatened by their leader.

France said it would fly aid to the opposition-controlled eastern half of the country. The European Union imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions, following the lead of the U.S. and the U.N. The EU was also considering the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya. And the U.S. and Europe were freezing billions in Libya’s foreign assets.

“Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to govern, and it is time for him to go without further violence or delay,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. “No option is off the table. That of course includes a no-fly zone,” she added. British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers: “We do not in any way rule out the use of military assets” to deal with Gadhafi’s regime.

Gadhafi, who in the past two weeks has launched the most brutal crackdown of any Arab regime facing a wave of popular uprisings, laughed off a question from ABC News about whether he would step down as the Obama administration demands.

“My people love me. They would die for me,” he said. ABC reported that Gadhafi invited the U.N. or any other organization to Libya on a fact-finding mission.

The turmoil in the oil-rich nation roiled markets for another day. Libya’s oil chief said production had been cut by around 50 per cent, denting supplies that go primarily to Europe.

The uprising that began Feb. 15 has posed most serious challenge to Gadhafi in his more than four decades in power. His bloody crackdown has left hundreds, and perhaps thousands, dead. But clashes appear to have eased considerably in the past few days after planeloads of foreign journalists arrived in the capital at the government’s invitation.

The two sides are entrenched, and the direction the uprising takes next could depend on which can hold out longest. Gadhafi is dug in in Tripoli and nearby cities, backed by his elite security forces and militiamen who are generally better armed than the military. His opponents, holding the east and much of the country’s oil infrastructure, also control pockets in western Libya near Tripoli. They are backed by mutinous army units, but those forces appear to have limited supplies of ammunition and weapons.

Gadhafi opponents have moved to consolidate their hold in the east, centred on Benghazi — Libya’s second- largest city, where the uprising began. Politicians there on Sunday set up their first leadership council to manage day-to-day affairs, taking a step toward forming what could be an alternative to Gadhafi’s regime.

The opposition is backed by numerous units of the military in the east that joined the uprising, and they hold several bases and Benghazi’s airport. But so far, the units do not appear to have melded into a unified fighting force. Gadhafi long kept the military weak, fearing a challenge to his rule, so many units are plagued by shortages of supplies and ammunition.

On Monday, pro-Gadhafi forces retook control of the western border crossings with Tunisia that had fallen under opposition control and they bombed an ammunition depot in the rebel-held east, residents in the area said. The Libyan Defence Ministry denied the bombing.

Regime forces also moved to tighten their ring around two opposition-controlled cities closest to the capital Tripoli — Zawiya and Misrata — where the two sides are locked in standoffs.

An Associated Press reporter saw a large, pro-Gadhafi force massed on the western edge of Zawiya, some 30 miles (50 kilometres) west of Tripoli, with about a dozen armoured vehicles along with tanks and jeeps mounted with anti-aircraft guns. An officer said they were from the elite Khamis Brigade, named after one of Gadhafi’s sons who commands it. U.S. diplomats have said the brigade is the best-equipped force in Libya.

Residents inside the city said they were anticipating a possible attack.

“Our people are waiting for them to come and, God willing, we will defeat them,” one resident who only wanted to be quoted by his first name, Alaa, told AP in Cairo by telephone.

In Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city 125 miles (200 kilometres) east of Tripoli, pro-Gadhafi troops who control part of an air base on the outskirts tried to advance Monday. But they were repulsed by opposition forces, who included residents with automatic weapons and defected army units allied with them, one of the opposition fighters said.

No casualties were reported and the fighter claimed that his side had captured eight soldiers, including a senior officer.

The opposition controls most of the air base, and the fighter said dozens of anti-Gadhafi gunmen have arrived from farther east in recent days as reinforcements.

Several residents of the eastern city of Ajdabiya said Gadhafi’s air force also bombed an ammunition depot nearby held by rebels. One resident, 17-year-old Abdel-Bari Zwei, reported intermittent explosions and a fire, and another, Faraj al-Maghrabi, said the facility was partially damaged. The site contains bombs, missiles and ammunition — key for the undersupplied opposition military forces.

State TV carried a statement by Libya’s Defence Ministry denying any attempt to bomb the depot. Ajdabiya is about 450 miles (750 kilometres) east of Tripoli along the Mediterranean coast.

Gadhafi supporters said they were in control of the city of Sabratha, west of Tripoli, which has seemed to go back and forth between the two camps in the past week. Several residents told the AP that protesters set fire to a police station, but then were dispersed. Anti-Gadhafi graffiti — “Down with the enemy of freedom” and “Libya is free, Gadhafi must leave” — were scrawled on some walls, but residents were painting them over.

There were signs of economic distress in the country, with long lines forming for bread and gasoline.

Global efforts to halt Gadhafi’s crackdown escalated Monday.

In Washington, the Pentagon said it was moving some naval and air forces closer to Libya in case they are needed. The U.S. has a regular military presence in the Mediterranean and farther to the south has two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf area.

The U.S. Treasury Department said that at least $30 billion in Libyan assets have been frozen since President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Libya last week.

France promised to send two planes with humanitarian aid the eastern opposition stronghold city of Benghazi, hoping to give it the momentum to oust Gadhafi. The aid to included medicine and doctors, would be the first direct Western help for the uprising that has taken control of the entire eastern half of Libya. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said it was the start of a “massive operation of humanitarian support” for the east and that Paris was studying “all solutions” — including military options.

The EU slapped its own arms embargo, visa ban and other sanctions on Gadhafi’s regime, following sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the U.N. in the past week. And Europe was also considering the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent any air attacks by the regime on rebellious citizens.

Clinton met in Geneva with foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany and Italy to press for tough sanctions on the Libyan government.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A cleaner goes into Red Deer’s Canada Post sorting facility near 67th Street and Taylor Drive on Thursday morning. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Employee tests positive for COVID-19 at Red Deer Canada Post mail sorting facility

Canada Post has confirmed an employee at the Red Deer mail processing… Continue reading

Two people (not in photo) are facing charges following a Sept. 20, 2020 anti-racism rally in Red Deer.
Advocate file photo
Woman charged in Red Deer anti-racism rally going to trial

Calgary woman facing a charge of assault with a weapon in connection with Sept. 20, 2020 rally

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley was in Red Deer Wednesday and addressed a number of different political topics affecting central Alberta. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Notley talks RDC, UCP draft K-6 curriculum in visit to Red Deer

Rachel Notley had only proposed a solution hours before she arrived in… Continue reading

The Bowden Institution medium security facility near Bowden. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
UPDATED: COVID-19 cases reported at Bowden Institution

Bowden Institution is dealing with seven active COVID-19 cases. The two positive… Continue reading

Photo by RANDY FIEDLER/Advocate staff BUDGET RURAL MEDICINE 2 - Dr. Fred Janke in his Sylvan Lake practice Wednesday. for story
Sylvan Lake doctor formerly accused of child sex crimes can practise again

Crown prosecutors dropped all charges against Dr. Fred Janke last November

Westerner Park’s Exhibition Hall was used as a vaccination clinic on Wednesday. A steady stream of people came to get their COVID-19 shots either by appointment or as walk-ins. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
No long lineups at walk-in vaccination site in Red Deer

A steady stream of people walked into Westerner Park on Wednesday to… Continue reading

Letisha Reimer is shown in a photo, part of a memorial to her outside Abbotsford Senior Secondary School in Abbotsford, B.C., Monday, Nov.7, 2016. A B.C. Supreme Court judge is expected to deliver her decision today over whether a man who stabbed two high school students is not criminally responsible because he had a mental disorder. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geordon Omand
Judge to rule on criminal responsibility of man who stabbed two B.C. students

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — A British Columbia Supreme Court judge is expected… Continue reading

File photo
Expert says Saskatchewan should consider more targeted vaccine plan as variants surge

SASKATOON — Nazeem Muhajarine says he feels a sense of relief after… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising Canada will slash its… Continue reading

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
More supply needed to ease housing price crunch, but always more to do, Freeland says

OTTAWA — Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says the country needs a boost… Continue reading

Smoke pours from the stacks at the Portlands Energy Centre in Toronto on Thursday January 15, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Risk experts say climate change to take big chunk of Canadian economy by 2050

One of the world’s largest insurers says Canadians will be more than… Continue reading

A Blanding’s turtle (Gabrielle Fortin/Contributed)
Earth Day: Finding hope in an old sweater

During the pandemic, many of us have spent several months at home.… Continue reading

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says 1.7 million reusable masks have been ordered at a cost of $4.2 million.” (Advocate file photo).
Alberta teachers and education minister swap accusations of politicizing curriculum

EDMONTON — Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says the group representing Alberta teachers… Continue reading

FILE - In this March 19, 2021, file photo, people take pictures of the Olympic rings installed by the Japan Olympic Museum in Tokyo. The vaccine rollout in Japan has been very slow with less than 1% vaccinated. This of course is spilling over to concerns about the postponed Tokyo Olympics that open in just over three months.(AP Photo/Hiro Komae, File)
Olympic bodies launch competitive series in virtual sports

Olympic body hopes to reach more young people

Most Read