LIBYAN leader Muammar Gaddafi appeared to have lost control of large sections of his country last night as anti-government protesters pledged to liberate the capital, Tripoli.
Much of the eastern part of the country was under the control of the opposition and elements of the security forces who have defected.
This set the scene for civil war as forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi, including hardline elements of the military and African mercenaries flown in by him, attempted to shore up their control of Tripoli.
But cracks are appearing in the state media, which normally runs only pro-Gaddafi stories.
One newspapers reported yesterday that the pilot and navigator of a Libyan air force plane had ejected by parachute over a desert rather than follow orders to bomb protesters. The plane crashed.
Two days ago, two air force jets flew to Malta after their pilots refused to attack protesters.
The regime tried to use the main mobile phone service to convince people it was still in control, sending out a mass text message saying: “God give victory to our leader and the people.”
Clashes were reported in Tripoli as anti-government protesters set ablaze one of the city’s largest police stations and supporters of both sides sought to stake out neighbourhoods they controlled.
Residents said they were reluctant to leave their houses because pro-Gaddafi militia and snipers were shooting whenever they saw two or more people in the streets.
This led to an unofficial curfew as most shops and businesses in Tripoli remained closed.
US President Barack Obama broke his silence on Libya, saying: “The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable.”
And in a rare moment of agreement with Western leaders, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expressed outrage at what he said was unimaginable repression in Libya, urging world leaders to listen to their people.
While it is impossible to gauge the death toll, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said suggestions that as many as 1000 people had been killed were credible.
French Defence Minister Alain Juppe said last night a foreign military intervention in Libya was not on the cards, but enforcing a no-fly zone was “worth looking at”.
Thousands of people tried to enter Tripoli airport as panic set in following Colonel Gaddafi’s pledge on Tuesday to crush the uprising and his call for his supporters to take to the streets to confront protesters. The 68-year-old dictator vowed to purge Libya “house by house” of foreign-inspired protesters.
A flight chartered by BP carrying 150 Britons landed at Gatwick last night (AEDT).
“Libya is descending into hell,” said passenger Helena Sheehan. “It’s absolute chaos. There’s just thousands and thousands of people trying to get out.”
Many people tried to flee into neighbouring countries. The UN reported that about 15,000 people were seeking to cross into Egypt and 5000 into Tunisia.
Many Egyptians and Tunisians who work in Libya have become fearful after one of Colonel Gaddafi’s sons, Saif, blamed Egyptians and Tunisians for fomenting the unrest in Libya.
Another Gaddafi son, Saadi, said his father would continue to play a key role after “the positive earthquake” in Libya.
He told the Financial Times of London: “My father would stay as the big father who advises. After this positive earthquake, we have to do something for Libya. We have to bring in new blood to govern our country.”
Meanwhile, Libya’s former justice minister, after quitting the cabinet in protest at the crackdown on protesters, has claimed he has evidence that Colonel Gaddafi personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing.
Mustafa Abdel-Jalil told Swedish newspaper Expressen the instruction to bomb Pan Am Flight 103 had come from the top.
“I have proof Gaddafi gave the order about Lockerbie,” he said.
US relatives of the victims hailed the news as vindication of their long-held belief that Colonel Gaddafi was behind the massacre.
Mr Abdel-Jalil did not deny the guilt of convicted Libyan agent Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, but said Colonel Gaddafi had asked him to carry out the bombing. “To hide it, he did everything in his power to get al-Megrahi back from Scotland,” Mr Abdel-Jalil said.
France called on the EU to introduce sanctions, while the Spanish government said Colonel Gaddafi had “lost all legitimacy”.