Protesters defy Libya’s bloody crackdown

CAIRO: Protesters stormed Libya’s state broadcaster and torched the the Interior Ministry and police stations in Tripoli as the Gaddafi regime unleashed the harshest crackdown of any Arab country to undergo the wave of protests sweeping the region. Human rights groups say 233 people are confirmed dead.

After Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, warned that the Arab world’s longest ruling leader would fight to the death to retain power yesterday, the challenge to his father’s 41-year rule reached the Libyan capital with witnesses reporting several mainstays of the regime had been overrun.

Libya’s al-Jamahiriya Two television and al-Shababia radio were both forced to halt broadcasts on Sunday evening after their offices were ransacked and looted, according to witnesses.

Although they resumed broadcasts yesterday, witnesses said protesters had torched other public buildings in the capital, including the Interior Ministry, police stations and offices of the governing People’s Committee.

The People’s Conference Centre in Tripoli’s residential neighbourhood of Hay Al-Andalous, which regularly hosts pro-regime demonstrations and official meetings, was also set alight.

In the eastern city of Benghazi, under the control of protesters after the police and army withdrew, 60 people were killed in one day, according to a hospital medic. That city and al-Baida were overrun after a bloody crackdown in which security forces fired on thousands of demonstrators and funeral marchers.

In Tripoli, secret police were deployed, snipers were seen on rooftops around Green Square and troops surrounded a courthouse where about 200 lawyers and judges were protesting. An exiled opposition activist in Cairo said hundreds of protesters were near the Bab al-Aziziya military camp, where Colonel Gaddafi lives on Tripoli’s outskirts.

While the 68-year-old leader has yet to address the nation since the unrest erupted last week, foreigners were taking flight.

Norwegian energy giant Statoil said it had begun evacuating non-Libyan staff working in the country as Portugal sent planes to pick up its citizens and other EU nationals and Turkey sent two ferries to pick up construction workers.

Protesters around the Arab world were yesterday undeterred by the worsening violence in Libya, however, continuing to mass in their thousands to demand change.

In the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, a crowd of thousands, including MPs and students, joined a protest near the university campus calling on veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit. Security forces surrounded the area. Mr Saleh responded by saying only defeat at the ballot box would make him quit. Yemeni police shot dead a protester and wounded four in the main southern city of Aden, bringing the city’s death toll to 12.

In Bahrain, protesters were gearing up for a rally they hoped would bring tens of thousands to central Pearl Square tonight.

Ahead of the rally, Hassan Mashaima, leader of Bahrain’s opposition Haq movement, said he would return to Manama tonight, despite having the threat of terrorism charges hanging over him.

In Morocco, thousands of protesters took to the streets, defying predictions the 1000-year-old monarchy would escape the region’s swelling unrest.

Five burned bodies were found last night in a bank set ablaze in a north Moroccan town of Al Hoceima and Interior Minister Taib Cherkaoui said 128 people, including 115 members of the security forces, were wounded in violence in several towns following largely peaceful demonstrations on Sunday.

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